The Association for Core Texts and Courses, ACTC, was first formed because of the efforts of Stephen Zelnick and Scott Lee of Temple University in the fall and spring of 1994-1995. Zelnick had, at the time, recently become director of Temple’s core-text Intellectual Heritage program. He began to consider what sort of professional organization might be developed to fill the need for addressing the scholarly, pedagogical, and administrative issues involved in undergraduate core text curricula. He asked Lee to join him in the development of such an organization and together they organized the first conference, in 1995, of what was to become an important liberal arts professional association for North American institutions of higher education.
Speaking to the Association five years later, Zelnick remarked, “When I look back…, it is clear to me that much of ACTC’s success results from the membership. Our model from the beginning was democratic all the way. We depended on the people coming to our conference to provide intelligent presentations and discussion and, most important, to work in a collegial manner.” Zelnick was right.
Thirty-three individuals from twenty-three institutions attended that first conference. Representatives from each institution presented descriptions of their various programs. Participants discussed whether there were enough shared concerns with texts, administration, teaching, and the development of sound liberal education to warrant formation of an organization. All agreed these concerns were vital to the improvement of liberal, general education as it seemed to exist in the mid-90’s in North America. And, given the wide differences in programs and institutions, all agreed that though our aim was better liberal education, based in the best of readings from the West and the World, ACTC would be an organization that welcomed and encouraged a wide range of text, course, and program developments from its diverse institutions. The range of programs displayed in that first conference meant that ACTC would be an “inductive” organization. Hence, shortly after the conference, ACTC adopted its organizing statement which read, in part:
The Association for Core Texts and Courses brings together colleges and universities that promote the integrated and common study of world classics and other texts of major cultural significance. Members of ACTC advocate the growth of such programs in order to strengthen undergraduate education in the United States and Canada. ACTC challenges both aimless curricular choice and the current dominance of vocational, professional and specialized curricula. ACTC is committed to the education of free citizens, equipped to conduct their public and private lives informed by the best that has been thought and expressed in Western and other traditions. ACTC advocates core text programs at all undergraduate institutions. ACTC helps initiate such programs and develops networks to support existing programs.
ACTC wanted each individual member and each institution to contribute to a productive discussion about the possibilities of developing core text education as it would fit and work with the traditions of each institution as well as the broader traditions of liberal education. That the programs and texts discussed in ACTC are wide and diverse can be seen by examining some of our agendas of previous conferences.
The democratic and voluntary nature of ACTC has been, in many ways, the story of its growth. And, as ACTC has grown, it has taken on many projects to aid the development of core text, general liberal education.
For the first conference, Temple University provided all the institutional support. But in the second conference, other institutions began to support ACTC; these included: Adelphi University, Boston University, Brooklyn College, Providence College, Saint Anselm College, St. John’s College, St. Mary’s College (Minnesota), Skidmore College, Temple University, Trenton State College, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Villanova University. From these 12 institutions, institutional membership has grown to 71. At the second conference, ACTC established its Board. Over time the Board has grown. We see in both the Board and the attendees to our conference, faculty and administrators of North American institutions, who have remained committed to ACTC for the decade of its growth. Over the years, these ACTC members have offered to ACTC sound advice and counsel that has allowed ACTC to mature and flourish. In that second conference, also, Zelnick was elected Director (later President) and Lee Associate Director (later Executive Director).
Individual attendance at the conference has grown enormously. Recruitment has depended much on Lee’s efforts to build the base of membership with many sponsoring-institution volunteers helping to bring new members to the conference. At the second conference, we attracted 82 individuals from 53 institutions. In 2008, we had 290 from 130 institutions. ACTC’s annual conference is supported both by institutional contributions and individual memberships.
The growth in attendance has meant growth in participation in ACTC activities. From the very first, ACTC intended to provide a forum for publication on core texts and liberal education and a network which would enhance the careers of those who dedicated themselves to core text education. With Lee as series editor, ACTC began to publish selected proceedings with its third annual conference. To date, five volumes have been published, with three coming out during 2008. Aside from the many individuals who have contributed essays and have come to look upon these peer-reviewed publications as a real resource for building and enhancing programs, many ACTC members volunteered their time to edit these volumes and make them available. These include: Anthony Brunello, Michael Chiariello, Darrel Colson, Bainard Cowan, Patrick Malcolmson, Jane Rodeheffer, Allen Speight, David Sokolowski, Don Thompson, Ronald Weber, and Darcy Wudel. Rodeheffer constructed our first website, Zelnick our second, and Lee this third website.
Similarly, beyond institutional membership, institutions and individuals have helped to build the conferences with support and volunteer effort. Our first non-Philadelphia conference was hosted by the University of North Carolina at Asheville, with the able cooperation of Peg Downes. Below we acknowledge institutional sponsors or co-sponsors and sponsor/co-sponsor leaders who headed teams of faculty that made our conferences a success:
- 1999 Louisiana State University and Southeastern Louisiana University: Bainard Cowan and James Walter
- 2000 Saint Mary’s College of California, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Pacific Union College, Pepperdine University, Truckee Meadows Community College: Theo Carlisle, Jane Rodeheffer, Keith Francis, Don Thompson, Dale Donathan
- 2001 University of Notre Dame, Great Books Foundation: Phillip R. Sloan, Don Whitfield
- 2002 Concordia University-the Liberal Arts College, University of King’s College: Harvey Shulman, Peggy Heller
- 2003 Mercer University, Oglethorpe University, Emory University-Oxford College: Charlotte Thomas, Alan Woolfolk, Gretchen Schultz
- 2004 University of Dallas, Baylor University, University of Texas at El Paso: Louise Cowan, David Hendon, Ronald Weber
- 2005 Malaspina University-College, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia: Anne Leavitt, Stephen Duguid, Paul Burns
- 2006 Benedictine University, Shimer College, the Great Books Foundation: Patrick Flynn, Barbara Stone, Don Whitfield
- 2007 Hampden-Sydney College, Averett University, James Madison University, Lynchburg College, Norfolk State University: Roger Barrus and John Eastby, Larry Wilburn and Darcy Wudel, Linda Halpern, Peggy Pittas, Page Laws
- 2008 Assumption College, St. Anselm College, Thomas More College: Bainard Cowan and Nalin Ransinghe, Robert Anderson, Mary Mumbach
- 2009 Rhodes College, Aquinas College, Carthage College, Samford University: Dan Cullen, David Sick, and Richard Dagger, Dutton Kearney, Ben DeSmidt, Chris Metress
During 2002, ACTC also had its first student conference, which was sponsored by Colorado College through the generous help of Timothy Fuller and his able-bodied students. In 2005, ACTC held its second student conference at Saint Mary’s College of California, with Br. Kenneth Cardwell and able students from the Collegiate Seminar and the Integral Program. A third is planned for the early spring of 2009, with Charles Hamaker, of Saint Mary’s, David Dimattio, of St. Bonaventure University, and Ronald Weber of the University of Texas at El Paso working with students from their core text programs to form the conference. In 2006-2007, ACTC joined with Lynchburg College’s online journal, Agora, to publish essays by students of ACTC membership institutions. The best papers of student conferences will be selected for publication.
If the long list of volunteers and supporting institutions indicate the continuous building support by members, ACTC has also grown through specific projects and the support of outside agencies. In 2000 ACTC won a $ 15,000 Andrew W. Mellon travel grant to support its cooperative curriculum development work with the Aga Khan Humanities Project (AKHP) in Central Asia. Five representatives traveled to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to observe the progress of the new core curriculum being developed by the AKHP in nine former Soviet universities. Grant writer and project director Lee joined Zelnick who headed the site visit team of Peg Downes of UNC Asheville, Susan Gillespie of Bard College, and Thomas Barfield of Boston University.
In the spring of 2002, Stephen Zelnick, after eight years in the Presidency of ACTC announced his retirement. Zelnick remarked in the ACTC newsletter that year, “here we are with over one hundred institutions joined together in our own wider search for turning souls to the light through reading the very best books.” Indeed, Zelnick inspired the conference with a closing address which captured the essence of that spirit of ACTC which has led to so many contributing so much to this organization. Fortunately, he remains on the Board to offer ACTC his wisdom and advice.
In 2002, ACTC began the second phase of one of the largest general education review projects in the country, Trends in the Liberal Arts Core. Trends had been a FIPSE sponsored project of the American Academy for Liberal Education. As part of the project’s development, Trends has, one of the largest databases on general education structures and support in the country.
In the summer of 2002 Lee approached the University of Dallas about creating a Liberal Arts Institute. Through the generosity and institutional direction provided by Provost Thomas Lindsay, with considerable moral support from Louise Cowan, the Liberal Arts Institute became a reality in the fall. The idea of the Institute was to provide for a permanent infrastructure for ACTC and to provide a platform for special projects in core text, liberal arts education.
As a direct result of establishing the Institute, in spring of 2003, ACTC won its first NEH grant for the three-year, $ 244,000 proposal, “Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences: An Exemplary Education Model of Core Text, Humanistic Education.”. Ten institutions joined ACTC in this grant which held its first seminar of readings and curriculum building in June 2003, at St. John’s College. The nine institutions are Benedictine University, Mercer University, Norfolk State University, Samford University, Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Mary’s College of California, Saint Olaf College, Seton Hall University, Truckee Meadows Community College, and the University of Dallas.
In the fall of 2003, Phil Sloan was elected President of ACTC. A long-time supporter of ACTC, Phil immediately contributed to the phenomenal growth of ACTC by helping to co-write (with Peter Kalkavage and Lee) the Bridging proposal, team-leading it (with Kalkavage) and, annually, at our largest conferences, giving a thoughtful addresses, calling for a renewed understanding of the function of core text courses, liberal arts education within the modern university and collegiate setting.
In 2004 and 2005, Lee, working in collaboration with the Cherokee Heritage Center and Mary Ellen Meredith, developed and won two core text proposals (totaling $ 249,000) from the NEH on Renewing Cherokee Culture after the Trail of Tears – which turns very much on liberal arts education and subsequent development of Cherokee arts. 90 high school teachers attended two week-long seminars and ACTC also posted most of the original, core text materials and lectures from the seminars on its website.
In 2004, after proto-typing the Liberal Arts Institute at the University of Dallas, Saint Mary’s College of California invited the Institute to campus with a generous two-year grant, and a third year of support during a transition to Liberal Arts Institute Consortium support. Ten members, to date, have joined the consortium: Assumption College, Benedictine University, Columbia University–Columbia College, Pepperdine University, Samford University, St. Bonaventure University, St. John’s College – Annapolis and Santa Fe, Saint Mary’s College of California, Samford University, Shimer College and the University of Dallas.
From 2005 to the present, ACTC has been working with the Universidad Tecnologica de Bolivar to build a South American Liberal Arts Institute in Cartagena, Colombia. Patricia Martinez Barrios, Guillermo Serrano, and Christian Schumacher have worked with Lee and Sloan to build the affiliated South American Institute. The ACTC/Universidad work has resulted in two conferences on core text liberal arts education and Hispanic traditions, and a third is planned for 2009.
The Institute is currently in the development stage of a number of project proposals: Last winter, ACTC worked with Columbia University and William Theodore de Bary in the production of the Classics for an Emerging World Conference. This was an international conference attended by institutions from the Pacific Basin and by North American ACTC representatives interested in cross-civilizational core text curricula. This work continues in two forms: ACTC is working with Columbia and a Taiwanese group on a core curriculum conference in November and working with partners from St. John’s College Santa Fe and Columbia to build a grant for Asian Studies at the Core. Other Institute projects in development include: Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and the Sciences II; and Uniting Higher Education: Bringing Community Colleges and Transfer Students into the Core. We have begun inquiries on a Business and Core Texts project, and we have started some inquiries into the interests of religious and secular institutions in funding a conversation comparing overlaps and differences of core.
In 2007 and 2008, ACTC’s organizational structure grew with development of a variety of committees: budget, nomination, advisory to the Institute, and a working group on grant development.
Finally, ACTC is working with sister organizations, the Association for General and Liberal Studies, the National Collegiate Honors Council, and the National Council of Instructional Administrators to build opportunities for core text, liberal arts education across North America.
ACTC invites inquiries about its history or current projects.