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. All agreed that shared concerns with texts, administration, teaching, and the development of sound liberal education were vital to the improvement of 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. With agreement by the representatives who attended the first meeting, 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.
That the programs and texts discussed in ACTC are wide and diverse can be seen by examining some of our agendas of previous conferences. That ACTC promoted the study of "world classics" indicated an international interest in traditions outside the West.
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 nearly 70 institutions.
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 institutions from all over the world who have shown twenty-five years of support and commitment to ACTC's work. In that second conference, also, Zelnick was elected Director (later President) and Lee Associate Director (later Executive Director).
Early Conferences and Projects
Over the years, the growth in attendance has meant growth in participation in ACTC activities. Our first conference outside of Philadelphia was hosted by the University of North Carolina Asheville, with the able support of Peg Downes.
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. ACTC began to publish selected proceedings with its third annual conference. To date, twenty two volumes have been published or are in process.
During 2002, ACTC also had its first student conference, which was sponsored by Colorado College. In 2005, ACTC held its second student conference at Saint Mary's College of California. Since 2009 ACTC, in conjunction with sponsoring and co-sponsoring institutions, has held biennial student conferences.
In 2006-2007, ACTC joined with University of Lynchburg's online journal, Agora, to publish essays by students of ACTC membership institutions. The best papers of student conferences will be selected for publication.
ACTC also grew 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.
In the spring of 2002, Stephen Zelnick, after eight years in the Presidency of ACTC announced his retirement. He remained on the Board to offer ACTC his wisdom and advice until 2011.
The Liberal Arts Institute and Other Special Projects
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, $ 259,000 proposal, "Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences: An Exemplary Education Model of Core Text, Humanistic Education.". This faculty and curriculum development grant held its first seminar of readings and curriculum-building in June 2003 at St. John's College. 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 Peter Kalkavage of St. John's College Annapolis 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. Twelve 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.
ACTC increasingly spreads its efforts around the world.
From 2005 to the 2007, ACTC worked with the Universidad Tecnologica de Bolivar to build a South American Liberal Arts Institute in Cartagena, Colombia. The ACTC/Universidad work has resulted in two conferences on core text liberal arts education and Hispanic traditions.
From 2007 on, ACTC worked with Columbia University and William Theodore de Bary in the production of the Classics for an Emerging World Conference. This international conference was attended by institutions from the Pacific Basin and by North American ACTC representatives interested in cross-civilizational core text curricula. In 2009, ACTC worked with Columbia and a Taiwanese group on a core curriculum conference in Taiwan. Subsequently, ACTC sent representatives to the Chinese Association for Liberal Education (now the Chinese Association for Suzhi Education (CASE)) between 2010 and 2017. In turn, CASE and many Chinese universities have attended ACTC conferences and faculty-curriculum development projects.
As Chinese universities incorporated general education into their curricula, Lee and other members of ACTC were invited to Chinese University of Hong Kong by Mei Yee Leung to participate in conferences on general education and core texts, as well as to participate in faculty development seminars. In July 2018, the Liberal Arts Institute held a special topic conference co-sponsored by The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Concordia Unversity-Irvine, The Lilly Fellows Program, New York University Liberal Studies, and Pepperdine University on "Global General Education and Asian Texts: What Shall Our Students Read?" More than fifty attendees from twenty-eight institutions around the world attended the conference.
In 2008, Phil Sloan nominated Richard Kamber to be the third President of ACTC, and he was elected by the Board. Rick was a founding member of the ACTC Board. In his statement to the Board upon his nomination, Rick remarked, "Part of the job of our next President will be to enlist the talents of both Board and non-Board members and to cultivate the support of an expanding circle of institutions to increase our visibility and momentum. I am convinced that core texts and courses, as we have come to define them, are superb vehicles of advancing liberal arts education and that ACTC is uniquely poised to provide leadership in promoting their use and demonstrating their power. "
Expanding Conferences, Projects, and Outreach
ACTC began a second period of growth as Board Members, staff, and regular membership stepped up their support and participation in ACTC activities. From 2009 through 2012 ACTC saw increasing Annual Conference attendance, which has had ripple effects up to the present day.
ACTC expanded its contact with sister organizations -- the Association for General and Liberal Studies (AGLS), the National Collegiate Honors Council, and the National Council of Instructional Administrators (NCIA) -- to build opportunities for core text, liberal arts education across North America.
In January of 2010, Lee, after consultation with ACTC’s Board and President, Rick Kamber, sent a letter with a proposal for a joint project in assessment to the Executive Council of AGLS. The proposal sought to develop assessments appropriate to core text programs. Kathleen Burk, of the University of Dallas, and David Dimattio, then of St. Bonaventure University, began to work with 10 institutions to produce, the first volume of Qualitative Narrative Assessment: Core Text Programs in Review. As the second volume was undertaken, Burk became ACTC’s Assessment Director.
In 2011, Brent Cedja, University of Nebraska, Executive Director of NCIA, worked with Lee and faculty from Carthage and Kentucky State University to develop a core text faculty development center for community college faculty in Michigan.
In 2013, Phillip Sloan, Felicitas Munzel, and Hugh R. Page worked with Lee on developing an Institute special topic conference on “The Research University and the Liberal Arts College: Challenges and Future Promise of an Educational Tradition.” Convening 30 participants from over 20 institutions at Notre Dame University and generously supported by a grant from ND, the conference projected possible growth and problems for liberal arts education in an educational landscape dominated by universities. See ACTC ….. for the conference papers.
In 2014, Rhodes College and Daniel Cullen of the Project for the Study of Liberal Democracy, and the Apgar Foundation joined with the Institute to sponsor a conference of 50 participants on "The Intersection of Religious and Secular Cores in Liberal Arts Education."
Beginning in 2012, faculty from European institutions began to attend ACTC conferences with regularity. At the annual Board meeting of the Institute, initial plans were laid for a European Core Text Conference, organized by European institutions and supported by ACTC’s Liberal Arts Institute. Original organizers, Emma Cohen de Lara of Amsterdam University College, Hanke Drop of University of Arts, Utrecht, Karin Beck of Leuphana Universität, Claudia Heuer of Leuphana, Rebekah Howes of Winchester University, and José M. Torralba of Universidad de Navarra produced the first conference on “Liberal Arts and Sciences Education and Core Texts in the European Conference” in 2015. Subsequently, in 2017 at Winchester, the European group led by Howes and Nigel Tubbs produced the conference, “On European Liberal Education: renewal and reform.” A 2019 conference is planned at Navarra. Its topic will be “Caring for Souls: Can Core Texts Educate Character?” The Institute has supported these last two conferences, as well.
Late in 2013, plans were laid for a two-week summer reading seminar in core texts at Columbia University and Yale University in 2014 – Tradition and Innovation: Liberal Arts Through Core Texts.” Roosevelt Montás, of the Core Curriculum at Columbia, secured funding for the project from the Teagle and Bradley Foundations. Kathy Eden of Columbia and Norma Thompson of Yale were seminar leaders for 13 institutional teams committed to curricular change and pedagogy using core texts. The Institute contributed substantially to the project and ACTC advertised it. The same pattern followed in 2016, when the University of Chicago’s Richard Strier joined Eden in leading seminars at both campuses for two weeks with 10 institution teams participating. Syllabi for the seminar are available at…
In 2018, Lee, joined by Joshua Parens, University of Dallas, Ben Desmidt, Carthage College and Kathleen Burk, submitted a successful grant proposal by the Institute to the Bradley Foundation: “Rejuvenating and Reinventing the Liberal Arts in the 21st Century.” Modeled after Tradition and Innovation seminars, the project will be focused will on the texts of the Trivium and the Trivium’s modern successors.
New Leadership of ACTC
At the spring 2016 Board meeting, Lee announced his retirement from the Executive Directorship, effective spring 2018. After developing a transition plan and a plan for recruiting candidates, the Board reviewed submissions for the position, and after interviewing candidates selected Kathleen Burk, formerly ACTC’s Assessment Director, as the successor to Lee. Burk has had a long-time relationship with ACTC, participating in the Bridging the Gap Project, representing the University of Dallas on ACTC’s Board, and planning a Student Conference at Dallas. She organized the 2018 Annual Conference and assumed the office at the conference.
Also, in 2017, Richard Kamber retired as President, and the Board asked Jane Kelley Rodeheffer to become the fourth President of ACTC. Rodeheffer had been with ACTC since its inception and brought experience at two core text institutions – St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Pepperdine University. She edited two volumes of the proceedings, including a volume of the Secular and Religious Cores special topic conference, and led her institutions to sponsor four Annual Conferences and Institute projects.
In keeping with its role as a catalyst for the ACTC Liberal Arts Institute in 2002, the University of Dallas has participated heavily not only at the undergraduate level but also the graduate level in ACTC. Consequently, when Josh Parens became the graduate dean and director of UD's PhD program in 2013, following David Sweet, he joined in with UD's deep involvement with ACTC. By 2016, Parens joined the ACTC Board. Parens became acting President of ACTC April 2019 and in March 2020 was formally named the fifth president of the Association.
The COVID-19 crisis of 2020 compelled ACTC to cancel its annual meeting for the first time.
As 2020 came to a close, Charlotte (Charlie) Thomas was named the third Executive Director of ACTC. Thomas is a professor of Philosophy at Mercer University, Director of Mercer's Great Books program, and Co-Director of the McDonald Center for America's Founding Principles. She became of member of ACTC in its second year of existence, led Mercer's sponsorship and co-sponsorship efforts in three annual meetings, and has served on the ACTC Board since 2015. Her first challenge as Executive Director was to organize ACTC's first online conference.
ACTC invites inquiries about its history or current projects.