Chris West writes for the Martin Center about common reading programs on college campuses.

Many colleges assign “common readings” to incoming students as an intellectual experience outside the classroom to set the bar for the academic rigor that professors expect of students. This tradition is most students’ first taste of the university.

This well-meaning tradition, however, has become highly politicized and the quality of reading has significantly decreased over the years. Works like The Iliad and Catcher in the Rye have disappeared, replaced by books written by comedians from The New York Times best seller list.

The classics have been traded out for the ephemeral.

This change is emblematic of the university. Incoming students are no longer prepared for rigorous, intellectually challenging material. Instead, they read “timely” political books that are only relevant during the current news cycle.

North Carolina colleges, public and private, have followed national trends. Eight of the 16 University of North Carolina schools have a common reading program, and seven of the 29 private schools. No North Carolina school, public or private, chose a book published before 2010. Within the UNC system, six of the eight assigned readings have been published since 2012. That recency bias matters because the books are often left-leaning and these programs signal what political ideas campus administrators want students to hold.