A study conducted by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) analyzed the college reading lists assigned to incoming freshmen, and found some interesting results. The study covered 180 books and 290 college summer reading programs.
The study shows that the overwhelming number of books chosen “reflect themes congenial [or favorable towards] the academic left.”
“Of the 180 books, 126 (70 percent) either explicitly promote a liberal political agenda or advance a liberal interpretation of events.” On the other side, the study found “only three books (less than 2 percent) promote a conservative sensibility and none that promote conservative political causes.”
The remaining 51 books, or 28 percent, do not lean to the liberal or the conservative sides. In the report, the NAS recounts the controversy that ensued when the book, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich led to protests with critics claiming that this book assignment was an “intellectually dishonest” attempt to sway student opinion. Protesting students sometimes took out “full-page newspaper ads and stirred up considerable public opposition” to the book assignment. In the final list of major findings, the NAS stated that “our study brings to light a now well-documented instance of systemic liberal bias in American colleges and universities.”
The study concluded that the political leanings of book assignments could illustrate “deeper problems in American higher education” since “the existence of this bias is strongly disputed by some experts on higher education.”
Another discovery of the study was that the selected books for summer reading are chosen at “an intellectual level well below what should be expected of college freshmen.” The study admits that the summer reading programs are to close the gap between differences of American high school education, in which one school may perform better in some subjects than others. With the summer reading program, colleges and universities have re-instated core curriculum for students, to spend about two years to learn important subjects, but this approach has caused controversy. The university’s goal should be to “introduce students to some serious work, in the form of literature, scholarship, or philosophical inquiry.” However, universities don’t push incoming college freshmen to reach their academic limits, and as the study cited, “they shrink college‐level study to the comfort zone of the average student” and “the opportunity to move students to the next level has been missed.”
NAS also discovered a lack of classic texts written before the 20th century, as well as actual reading lists. The “only four classic texts” were Frankenstein, Walden, The Communist Manifesto, and Huckleberry Finn. Among the common reading lists, or summer reading lists, the study found “there are no works of classical antiquity (Homer…), none by Shakespeare or other Renaissance writers.” Instead, the classic novel of Frankenstein has to “represent not just British literature but all of European literature.” Even though “we are glad to see the inclusion of at least a few classic books” they were disappointed that “these four are not very challenging texts,” the NAS stated. It acknowledged that the lack of classic texts “undercuts the important role of colleges” to help students to read “the great writings that define their civilization.”