We’ve been reporting on the horrific results of decades of progressive higher education, and while it’s one thing to connect the dots and understand that radicals in academia are influencing college students, it’s quite another to see how the sausage is made.  The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has released a study that concludes that college common reading lists are designed to make activists, and it’s quite fascinating to see the curtain pulled back.

The NAS study demonstrates that the nation’s common readings list is “designed to indoctrinate students with progressive propaganda.”  The assigned books all share common traits:  they are non-academic, adhere to a single political agenda (progressive), are parochial, homogenous, and mediocre.

The NAS describes itself as follows:

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share our commitment to these broad principles. We publish a journal and have state and regional affiliates.

The National Association of Scholars upholds the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.

Their Beach Books study examined the summer reading list provided to the incoming freshmen of hundreds of American colleges and universities, and the results both confirm our worst suspicions and provide a means of taking back at least this part of our nation’s higher education.

The study examined 348 colleges and universities for the academic year 2016–2017 and found the following commonalities:

Most assignments were contemporary memoirs and popular nonfiction that endorsed politically progressive perspectives on affirmative action, gay, lesbian, and transgender life, global warming, illegal immigration, racial identity, recycling, sexism, incarceration, or wealth.

Findings from the study revealed that most colleges chose books that are:

  • Recent: 75% of common reading assignments were published between 2010 and the present. Only 13 (3.7%) were published before 1990. Only 6 (1.7%) were published before 1900.
  • Pro-progressive activism: Common readings usually have a progressive message—e.g., illegal immigrants contribute positively to America.  Many common readings are chosen to promote progressive activism, such as the sustainability or the de-incarceration movements.
  • Predictable: In late 2015, NAS predicted that Between the World and Me (published July 2015) would be one of the five most-frequently selected common readings for 2016-17. It was the second-most popular selection.

Colleges and universities do not just happen to pick progressive propaganda for their common readings; it is hard-wired into the structure of the common reading programs, NAS found. NAS director of communications David Randall, the author of the report, said, “common reading programs can choose better, more challenging, and more intellectually diverse books—but only if they change their mission statements.”

In other words, the common readings programs are specifically designed to promote progressive propaganda over the academic goals one might expect in higher education.  The progressive agenda is baked in from the start.

Common reading programs usually try to satisfy more than one mission at once, to meet both academic and non-academic goals. This is never a good idea: if you try to teach two things at once, you’re not likely to do either well . . . .

Georgia State University uses its First-Year Book Program to “raise awareness and tolerance of cultural likenesses and differences” and to “create a sense of community.”

Kalamazoo College’s Summer Common Reading is supposed to “address coming of age issues” and “foster intercultural understanding.”

The University of Louisville’s Book-in-Common “promotes self-discovery and exploration of diverse ways of thinking and being.”

. . . [T]hese non-academic goals also serve as euphemisms for the more politicized goals of common reading programs. A very large number of common reading programs—probably a large majority—combine the intellectual goals of sparking interest in reading and preparing students for college-level reading with some other non-academic goal, such as building community, diversity, or identity.

Because common reading mission statements have more than one goal, the incentive is to compromise on at least one of them. The mediocrity of common reading choices bears witness that selection committees usually make a priority of the nonacademic goal. [emphasis not mine]

NAS notes that the themes and subject matter of common reading assignments are increasingly clustered around a few set areas.


The clustering of common reading selections within the subject categories of Civil Rights/Racism/ Slavery and Crime and Punishment, and within the African-American theme, was driven largely by common reading selection committees choices of a very few books.

This clustering effect within a few select subject matters and themes reduces the intellectual diversity of the common reading genre as a whole. It also has the effect of reducing intellectual diversity within each subject category and theme. An astonishingly large number of the colleges and universities that wish to introduce students to the African-American experience have selected a homogenous handful of contemporary works . . . .

Following is a table of the top books for common reading for the 2016-17 academic year:

https://www.nas.org/images/documents/beach_books/NAS_executiveSummary_beachBooks2016.pdfThis is no accident.

NAS found that common reading mission statements explicitly state that their goal is to promote a progressive agenda.

Many common reading program mission statements don’t just exploit the presence of non-academic goals as a way to insert progressive propaganda. The mission statements themselves are crafted explicitly to forward progressive political goals, such as diversity (affirmative action quotas and propaganda) and multiculturalism (hostility to American culture). Where the common reading mission statements require progressive books, the choice of mediocre progressive propaganda is a feature, not a bug, as the table on the next page indicates.

The aforementioned table (via NAS):

https://www.nas.org/images/documents/beach_books/NAS_executiveSummary_beachBooks2016.pdfNAS warn that these problematic common reading lists are not merely a product of higher education’s progressive political culture, but are derived largely from the administrative structure.

Common readings are not just the product of a progressive political culture in higher education. They are particularly the products of progressive advocates within these institutions, concentrated in “co-curricular” bureaucracies—Orientation, First-Year Experience, Student Affairs, Office of Diversity, Office of Sustainability, Residential Life, and so on.

They are also the product of mission statements that direct committees to choose books to form “community,” or meet other nonacademic goals, rather than to focus on introducing students to college-level academic standards. The progressive politicization of common readings largely derives from this administrative structure.

The NAS makes a number of recommendations for changing this trend, including recommending 110 books they deem more academically-oriented, placing faculty rather than administrators in charge of the common reading selections, and urging donors to withhold donations until such changes are enacted.