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For Immediate Release:
Fairleigh Dickinson University

Gretchen Johnson


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International University Presidents Recommend Essential Readings

Presidents Recommend Oldies: the Bible, Homer and Shakespeare

Teaneck, NJ (November 14, 2003) — The books most strongly recommended as essential reading for undergraduate college students are the Bible, “The Odyssey,” and “The Republic” according to a survey of members of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP). The Presidents were asked: “What are five books you believe every undergraduate university student should read and study in order to engage in the intellectual discourse, commerce, and public duties of the 21st century?”

The question was posed by Dr. J. Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University, to the members of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) which has about 500 members worldwide. About a quarter of the members responded and had the option of ranking or not ranking their choices. Fairleigh Dickinson University has long been considered a leader in developing common core readings and courses for its undergraduates.

“I think a conversation about what to read is one of the most important conversations university leaders can have,” said Dr. Adams. “Though it is not a scientific survey, it’s a necessary and edifying intellectual engagement. It is a process of argument and discovery, a conversation we will have with many different groups and many different kinds of leaders around the world.”

No book was chosen by a majority of the IAUP members. No work came even close to being chosen by a majority. But the Bible was chosen by a fifth of the university presidents who participated. No other work was picked so often—or even came close. Homer’s “Odyssey” was the next most popular choice but was cited only half as often as the Bible. The Koran was also among the top most frequently cited books, ranking number seven.

Both William Shakespeare and Plato gained as many mentions as the Bible. While Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was one favorite, other Presidents recommended “King Lear” or “Macbeth”; some recommended the Bard’s complete works. While Plato’s “Republic” was also a favorite, some Presidents preferred his “Dialogues” or “The Allegory of the Cave.” Heinrich Stremitzer, former Rector of Vienna University of Economics, commented that “A classical education seems to be the most important prerequisite to meet the challenges in your question.”

Considering Plato, Homer, and Aristotle together, Greece did better than any other country among the top picks. The Americans had no author in the top nine books but the United States could claim several authors in the eight-way tie for 10th place including: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who wrote “The Federalist Papers,” Herman Melville, who wrote “Moby Dick,” and Thomas Friedman who recently wrote “The Lexus and the Olive Tree.”

When authors rather than books are ranked by the number of citations they receive, Stephen Hawking is the only recent author to appear in the top ten. No Americans are on the list. Among the authors most frequently cited, half wrote philosophy and half wrote plays or fiction.

Tabular results on-line at PublicMind Link Click on “Survey of University Presidents” box on top right.

Commentary by six Fairleigh Dickinson University faculty members on above site.

For information on International Association of University Presidents, visit IAUP Web Link

________________________________________________________________________ Survey Notes: The survey was conducted by Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University during the academic year 2002-2003 by canvassing the membership of the International Association of University Presidents. The members each received a letter with the single question: “What are five books you believe every undergraduate university student should read and study in order to engage in the intellectual discourse, commerce, and public duties of the 21st century?”

Respondents had the option of ranking or not ranking the five books. Their rankings--or non-rankings--were weighted on a five-point scale with the highest ranked selection weighted five times that of the lowest ranked.

About a quarter of the members (128) responded. Please note the respondents were self-selected and the results cannot be said to be representative of the views of the entire membership of the IAUP.

Copyright © 2001, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved.
This release authored with FDU Pagetoaster.