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Former regent donates funding
Omnivore's Dilemma back on menu for Common Reading
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
By James Tinney, WSU News Service
PULLMAN – WSU will reinstate the original plan for distribution of its Common Reading book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” as a result of a private contribution to support the program, President Elson S. Floyd announced today.
William Marler, a WSU alumnus and former chair of the Board of Regents, has offered to pay the costs of bringing Michael Pollan, the author of the book, to the Pullman campus.
“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, president of WSU.
Floyd said the book, a best-selling look at agribusiness and the food we eat, now will be distributed to freshmen students at the university’s “Alive” orientation program, as the two previous books in the Common Reading program had been.
Earlier this year, WSU administrators made the decision not to distribute the book at “Alive” and not to bring Pollan to campus, citing budget concerns. The university has estimated the total cost of holding an author’s event at around $40,000. The university is in the midst of finalizing a series of budget reductions in response to a $54 million cut in its state allocation for the upcoming biennium.
Since there would not be a campus-wide event scheduled with the author, administrators decided against universal distribution of the book to freshman, instead making the book freely available to faculty members who wanted to teach it in their classes. Some media reports characterized that decision as being based on the contents of the book, which is critical of some agribusiness practices.
WSU is the state’s land-grant university and plays the leading role in education and research related to the state’s agricultural industry. In 2007, WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences became the first university in the nation to offer a major in organic agriculture systems.
Marler said he was contacted by a reporter about the issue Tuesday. In a post on his blog, Marler, who served on the WSU Board of Regents from 1998-2004, expressed concern about WSU’s decision and offered to pay the expenses of bringing Pollan to campus. He called Floyd today to make that offer and the WSU president accepted.
“I certainly understand the financial problems that WSU and other colleges and universities are facing,” said Marler, an attorney from Bainbridge Island. “However, I also thought it would be important for the public to understand that Washington State University views freedom of speech and academic expression as something that is truly fundamental to its mission. I am pleased I could help in this regard.”
No date has been set for Pollan’s visit to campus.