UB English department offer class based on professors’ book picks


Kenneth Dauber, an English professor, sent a survey to professors in every department at UB asking, “What ten books would you want your child to have read by the time he or she has been graduated from college, regardless of his or her major?”

He will compile the responses to create the reading list for his English 214 class next fall. The class, titled ‘Top Ten Books,’ was last taught in 2000 and Dauber sent the same survey to UB’s faculty 15 years ago. “Top Ten Books” enrolled over 100 students when originally offered, according to Dauber. Next fall’s class has a capacity of 59 students.

“One of the things in which we are interested is whether the new list will be fundamentally like the old list or different,” Dauber said in an email.

Dauber is receiving responses from all different departments at UB, but he said the health and engineering departments have notably more responses to the survey.

With the recently new general education requirements, Dauber said he thought it was a good opportunity to bring the class back and survey the professors from all departments in order to find out which books should be read as part of a general education.

Dr. Mark Frank, a professor in the Department of Communication, said he received the email and thought the class sounded like a great idea and he hopes to see books about leadership on the list.

“You’re 18 and you’re at this point in your life that you’re in control,” Frank said.

Frank, who has two children of his own, said he “needs to sit down and think” of which books would be on his list because there would be many to choose from, but a few that came to mind were Origins of the Species and To Kill a Mockingbird.

“I would have to look in my library. There would be a lot,”he said.

Dr. Graham Hammill, the English department chair, said the class was very popular when it was first offered to students.

“The 1990s saw an explosion of interest in popular literature, ethnic literature and literature written by women,” Hammill said. “That made people question the intrinsic value of previously accepted classics. Maybe Virginia Woolf or Toni Morrison is better than Shakespeare, or at least just as good. English 214 approached the issue from a democratic point of view.”

Hammill also said even though the class drew in a lot of student interest, it was only offered for two years when first introduced as it was designed to only be offered occasionally. It was brought back to see how the list has evolved in the course of more than a decade.

Dauber said they don’t have a set list of books yet because it’s too early after releasing the survey to tabulate answers, however, there is some similarity among the answers received.

“The suggestions include books from the ancients – Greeks and Hebrews – to yesterday,” Dauber said. “And while many are literary, that is novels, or plays, or poetry, many are not.”

Dauber also says that by seeing how similar or different the responses from 2000 compare to those now will show how far the university has progressed. According to Hammill, he hopes to see somewhat of a change in books the faculty responds with.

“I do think the responses will be somewhat different. There are some classics that will likely be on both lists, but times and tastes change,” Hammill said. “It will be very interesting to see what books people are recommending in 2015. I am hoping that some newer works, maybe some films or digital literature, will make the list.”

Dauber said the survey will bring in a draw from professors on campus because it is asking for their own opinion.

“In asking, ‘What would you like your children to have read?’ we have sought to bring education back to visceral level, to move from committees and formal decisions to the simple question of what you, faculty member, who so values education, want for the education of the ones very near and dear to you,” Dauber said.

Marlee Tuskes is a contributing writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com