At WSU, Pollan is Required Reading, Then Not, Then Again

Goodlifer: At WSU, Pollan is Required Reading, Then Not, Then Again

Last week, Washington State University announced that it was pulling Michael Pollan’s best-selling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma from its required Common Reading Program for all incoming freshmen, seemingly due to pressure from corporate agribusiness. The book was selected in March of this year, by a committee at Washington State University, as this year’s common reading selection for all incoming freshmen. Faculty members were thrilled about the choice, hoping it would provide well-needed food for thought and provoke debate at the land-grant university.

The decision not to distribute the book at orientation was made by WSU President Elson Floyd and Provost Warwick Bayly. They attribute the removal of Pollan’s book from the required reading program to financial hardship, which does not really hold up as an excuse since the 4,000 copies of the book had already been purchased. In an e-mail message, President Floyd and Provost Bayly also cited the cost of bringing Mr. Pollan to Pullman and the WSU campus “This is just one of scores of hard decisions that have been made in recent weeks to address the $54 million cut in our biennial state appropriation. As you well know, this austerity has forced us to reduce or eliminate a number of programs and positions. Reducing the scope of this program — including not bringing the author to campus and avoiding speaker’s fees and travel, facilities, and event costs — will save an estimated $40,000.” Although Jeff Sellen, an instructor at the university who sat on a committee in charge of implementing the reading program, says members of that panel were told “we could not call it a common reading. I think that was important because it would be less official and would maybe fly underneath the radar,” he says. “It was obvious that it was political.” He says that there was never a substantial budget for events around the book — certainly not enough to bring in Mr. Pollan as a speaker — so he dismisses the idea that there was a financial rationale for the changes in the program.

Enter Bill Marler, a WSU alumnus and former chair of the Board of Regents, and accomplished food safety attorney. On his blog, Marler offered to open his own wallet to alleviate some of WSU’s financial distress and pay to bring Pollan to the Pullman campus. “I have my checkbook ready.” A pointed challenge to university administrators, offering them a chance to prove that the decision was financial and not political.

Bill Marler, food safety attorney and academic freedom advocate.

Bill Marler, food safety attorney and academic freedom advocate.

Shortly thereafter, WSU announced their decision to reinstate the original plan for distribution of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as a result of a Marler’s contribution to support the program. Perhaps vocal protests by bloggers, newspapers and organizations like Food Democracy Now also played a role. “While it is unfortunate that we now have to rely upon private dollars to support this program, we are most grateful to Bill Marler for his donation. He is an outstanding alumnus and friend of our university,” said Floyd. The book will now be distributed to freshmen students at the university’s “Alive” orientation program, as the two previous books in the Common Reading program had been.

This is an excellent example of how, together, we can all make a difference. The easy thing to do would have been to sit back and shake our heads in disbelief and disgust at the veil of corruption Big Agriculture seems to have lowered over Washington State University. Bill Marler took it upon himself to expose this deceit, refusing to let WSU leadership get away with vague excuses concealing true causes. Show that you care about your health and right to unbiased information and stand up against agribusiness, whether they are trying to get away with genetic modification, E.Coli, mercury or synthetic chemicals in food or limiting our schools’ academic freedom. Inaction is acceptance.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. I am looking forward to reading this book. I read his another of his books, THE BOTANY OF DESIRE which was an amazing read. I highly recommend it.

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