A plot that failed

June 18, 2009

The University of St Andrews is not the first in the UK to experiment with giving all new students a book and encouraging them to discuss it in book clubs when they arrive at campus ("One book clubs together the 'two cultures'?", 11 June).

This had been done for several years at the University of Philadelphia when I was a visiting professor there in 1990-91. In 1993, I suggested that we should trial the experiment at the University of Leicester. We began with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in October 1994, and the experiment was repeated in October 1995. Unfortunately, the result was failure. Not all departments were co-operative, and hall wardens (who welcomed the idea as a means of reducing drunken behaviour during Freshers' Week) found that the students boycotted sessions on the grounds that hall time was for leisure pursuits, not study.

W.H. Brock, Emeritus professor of history of science, University of Leicester.

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