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Thursday, October 28, 2021

To read or not to read?

For first-year English graduate student Ashley Matson, completing all her assigned reading was not something she did on a regular basis throughout her college career. As a result of having too many readings for a particular night, Matson would choose a class she liked the best or that was the most difficult and only did the reading for that class.

“I skipped probably two thirds of my readings,” Matson said. “If there weren’t consequences, it wasn’t difficult, or [if] I could do the essays without reading, I wouldn’t do it.”

Matson is not alone. Many students, regardless of their major, do not complete assigned reading prior to when it is due, and many just skip it at some point in their college career.

The reasons for skipping assigned readings are numerous and vary from person to person. For Julia Simon, professor of comparative literature, humanities and French literature and culture, students tend to skip assigned readings because of various pressures at school: seeing it as unimportant, saving up for the end of the quarter and blatantly not caring.

“When students don’t do the reading, they can’t engage with material, fall behind and don’t understand lecture and discussion,” Simon said. “If I assign something, it’s because I have learned from it and believe that students will, too.”

Many students believe that professors assign too much reading, but there are some students who believe it’s an accumulation of reading from multiple professors that makes it seem like a lot.

“In a way, I do believe the professor assigns a lot of reading, but I think it may also seem that way for me because I have other professors assigning me just as much reading,” said first-year animal science major Marrisa Trevino.

The views of students are vastly different from those of professors on the subject of excessive reading assignments. Professor and director of religious studies Catherine Chin says she doubts there are any professors who would think their assignments are unfair or unmanageable, and does not know any professor who does not consider whether they are assigning a reasonable amount of reading.

Like Chin, Simon believes that what she assigns for her classes is fair. When assigning reading, she considers whether students will be able to manage the workload. Giving shorter assignments during the week and longer ones over the weekend is part of her method of assigning reading.

Matson believes that for many classes, readings are there just because professors feel like students should be reading, not because the reading was actually beneficial. In her experience, if the readings are meaningful and have a point, students will read them. If not, they will be overlooked.

“Professors want to get through so many readings in a quarter, and it’s just not possible,” Matson said. “Realistically, we will read the same number of books each quarter regardless of the number assigned because we will always cut out the extras if we’re assigned too many.”

The majority of students agreed with professors that reading the assigned material is important; however, on students’ hierarchy of priorities, reading is not always at the top. Spanish literature and language professor Charles Oriel finds that students have misguided priorities and lose sight of the fact that their classes are the most important thing in their lives right now.

“Never again will they have the enviable position of simply having to study, so a number of other priorities take over: social life, clubs, partying and dating,” Oriel said.

First-year undeclared major Fearghal Casey is the type of students Oriel may be describing. Casey attempts to complete the required reading assignments, but will skip some if social obligations come up.

Like Oriel, French and humanities professor Noah Guynn feels that many students who skip assigned reading are simply just lazy or immature. Yet, he has learned that many students often face difficult issues that interfere with their abilities to follow through with reading all the material.

“I don’t accept excuses, though I do want to offer my students support if they need it or help them find support,” Guynn said.

While some professors disagree on whether or not assigning less reading material would propel more students to thoroughly and critically read them, all professors agree that to not read will inevitably result in a student performing poorly in the class. Simon, Oriel, Guynn and Chin all have memories of times when it was clear to them that their students failed to complete the reading, whether it was through exams, essays, class or one-on-one discussions.

Despite the consequences of not reading, there will continue to be students like Matson who have been able to successfully pass classes without doing the reading assignments.

“If I could do the essays without doing the reading, I would. It’s kind of like an English major rite of passage to see how well you can do without doing the reading,” Matson said. “If you could get an “A” like I could having not read the book, you know you were a successful English major.”

PRISCILLA WONG can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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