May 2, 2002

Changes to Plans for Book Project

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Cornell’s class of 2006 should expect their first assignment several months before arriving in Ithaca.

In its second year, the First Year Book Project will require incoming freshmen students to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

“I think the book project is a good idea,” said Vice Provost Isaac Kramnick, who made the recommendation to use Frankenstein this year. “It provides a basis for first year students, indeed the larger University community as well, to talk about and explore ideas,” Kramnick said.

High Cost

Last year, the book project cost over $100,000, according to Kramnick. The funding came out of the budget of the Vice President for Student and Academic Services and the Provost’s offices and the funding will come from the same offices this year.

“The primary purpose of the book project is to introduce students to what intellectual life at Cornell is like,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin.

What to Expect

Frankenstein will be mailed to students in June, according to Kramnick. Accompanying the book will be a letter from the Provost and President about Frankenstein and the book project in general. “We will also include a study guide with discussion questions and a little packet of news articles about cloning and other bio-ethical issues currently in the news,” Kramnick said.

When students arrive in August they can expect discussion sessions and lectures on the book among other activities.

On Aug. 25 there will be a panel discussion featuring faculty from across the University. The following day, discussion sections led by faculty and student co-facilitators will be held for freshmen students.

“It’s an opportunity to discuss in an intellectually stimulating environment,” said Martin. “It will hopefully help create and stimulate budding friendships and acquaintances.”

Vice Provost Kramnick is organizing a series of Monster Talks, “talks about the theme of monstrosity in culture, science and literature,” about every three weeks on North Campus in the Robert Purcell Community Center auditorium.

Every Friday during the fall, Cornell Cinema will also be showing a Frankenstein or Frankenstein-derived film, according to Kramnick.

First-year writing seminars will use the book more extensively than last year, with at least one assignment dedicated exclusively to Frankenstein, according to Martin.

“[Frankenstein] adds to the general opening lines of ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What college are you in?’ other possibilities, like ‘Who do you think is the villain, Frankenstein or the monster?'” said Kramnick. “This will sometimes lead to a good exchange of ideas and an exploration of ideas, which is a wonderful way to introduce people to what universities are all about.”

Martin agrees. “It’s a unifying shared experience with intellectual substance. Having students read Frankenstein will mediate social interaction.”

Some students do not feel the same way.

“I don’t think reading the book helped me meet people because no one really discussed the book outside of the discussions,” said Dina Faenson ’05, a member of the first class to participate in the project. “Many people in the discussions had not read the book and I did not and still do not keep in touch with people I met in those discussions.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel