Duke University Alumni Magazine

As the Class of 2003 arrived on campus, we asked some faculty and administrators:

What would you recommend as required reading for all first-year students?

Janet Smith Dickerson, vice president for student affairs, answered our question in two ways. "First, several of us considered getting a book for all Duke first-year students this year. We wanted to purchase The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson. However, it is out of print and we could not get copies.... I liked this book because it describes the personal conflict between two Durham community leaders--one a white Ku Klux Klan leader, the other a black activist--and ultimately their reconciliation. It elevates their personal story to one about this community to which our students come, and about twentieth-century Southern and American civil rights history." (A few years ago, Dickerson says, the library gave every incoming student a copy of John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom--"that, too, was an excellent choice.")

Second, Dickerson recommends Paolo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that "engaged me most as a young person" and "influenced my choice of occupation, and perspective on culture and struggle."

Kristina Johnson, the School of Engineering's new dean, recommends a variety of readings, from Don't Sweat the Small Stuff--And It's All Small Stuff to Elegy for Iris, John Bayley's recent, moving memoir of the last years with his lifelong companion, author Iris Murdoch. With two Irish works, Flann O'Brien's Third Policeman and Cecil Woodham Smith's The Great Hunger, she includes What I Have Learned, a collection of essays by twentieth-century leaders, particularly chapters by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Robert Maynard Hutchins, and one by Augustine Cardinal Bea on the value of courteous debate.

Finally, as "one for engineers and scientists" that "could be read by anyone," she recommends Valentino Braitenberg's Vehicles, an examination of self-organizing systems as embodied in small robots "that are enabled with more and more functionality, so that they emulate human reaction and emotion--a fun book."

Joe Harris, the newly-appointed director of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Writing, steers in a slightly different direction with his choice. "White Noise by Don DeLillo offers an accurate and ironic view of college--and our culture as a whole--as a giant supermarket whose aisles of texts and images we all, sooner or later, get lost in. It's both the funniest and sharpest novel about popular culture that I've read."

"As we considered your accomplishments...we thought, 'this person, this individual, belongs here at Duke; this person can embrace what we have to offer, and can offer something in return.' People saw in you something you might not even see in yourself."
--Undergraduate admissions director Christoph Guttentag, speaking during orientation to the Class of 2003, on why they were selected

"Be savvy about cyberspace: Know how to use it, and learn to develop the kinds of critical tools that allow you to differentiate between useful material and cybergarbage. Knowledge may be power, but information is not necessarily knowledge."
--Duke president Nannerl O. Keohane, speaking to the Class of 2003 during its convocation

"When I was a graduate student, I was expected to read all the literature on any given topic...and I was actually able to do so, though not without considerable commitment and much 'midnight oil.' In the current era, despite the best of intentions, it is not possible to access, much less to ingest, all the information out there."
--Provost Peter Lange, speaking to entering graduate and professional school students at their convocation in August

We asked students in a freshman writing seminar:

What was the biggest surprise after your first two weeks of classes?

"Though I knew that computers would play an indispensable role in research, I failed to predict their integral function in every other aspect of life here. Students and professors can communicate at any hour and with immediate responses without having to wait for office hours; assignments are posted on web pages, and completed work submitted as files."
--Maureen Hurtgen

"I went to a small high school, so all of the teachers were friendly, but we were warned that this would not be the case in college.

I have found things to be the exact opposite, even to the point of my professors asking to be called by their first names."
--Tracey Chenoweth

"The incredible amount of reading we are supposed to do and absorb."
--Sara Moore

"As I interact daily with students from Singapore, Egypt, Japan, Spain, and India, I realize just how much this university has to offer."
--Svati Singla

"The gorgeous weather. Coming from Seattle, I was expecting awful humidity, temperatures in the 90s or 100s, and generally unbearable conditions. Instead, it's been rather Californian--until the hurricane hit."
--Alison Haddock

"The fact that it was so easy to fall behind. My classmates complain that they work more in two weeks in college than they did in all of high school. I no longer think three hours of study a night is a lot."
--Matthew Pepper

"How good ice cream tastes after four hours of studying."
--Stephanie Chan

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