History of the Center

"If we believe that the role of teaching cannot be reduced to merely training in the practical skills, but involves instead, the education of a class of intellectuals vital to the development of a free society, then the category of intellectual becomes a way of linking the purpose of teacher education, public schooling and inservice training to the very principles necessary for developing a democratic order and society."

Henry A. Giroux, Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning, 1988

In April of 1983, a committee charged by the Reagan administration issued A Nation at Risk. A year later, a group of faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia  banded together in an effort to redress what they saw as a subordination of content enrichment in teacher education. What emerged was an institution, directed by Harold H. Kolb, Jr., that brought together professors from English, History, Classics, Politics, the foreign languages, Math, and the sciences, in order to create and offer programs for K-12 teachers and to establish a new ongoing relationship between the university and the schools. The structure of CLA was an effective one: each academic discipline would have a Project Director who would determine what kinds of programs and topics would best advance teacher knowledge in a particular field.  Kolb and the Project Directors went around the Commonwealth, finding out where teachers, schools, school divisions, and state officials understood there to be shortfalls, or potential shortfalls, in teacher knowledge.

With early funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a variety of other state, private and federal sources, CLA sponsored groundbreaking programs for teachers that included one-day Saturday workshops, multi-week summer institutes for graduate credit, off-grounds courses, and trips abroad for intensive study.

When Kolb retired in 1999, Mathematics professor Loren Pitt, a longtime Project Director, took over the directorship; he was soon joined as co-director by Victor Luftig, who arrived at UVA in 2000 from Brandeis University after many years of teaching high school English teachers at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English. These changes coincided with CLA’s moving from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Office of the Vice President and Provost, who was then Gene Block, and, eventually, from Zehmer Hall Annex to 2400 Old Ivy Road. Luftig soon became sole director; he secured new funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and, as Director of UVA's "Teachers for a New Era grant from 2002 to 2008, garnered new nationwide attention for CLA’s achievements. While Luftig ran TNE@UVa, Bonnie Hagerman served as Interim Director; at the conclusion of the TNE grant, Hagerman became CLA's's Associate Director.

NEH funding continued to be crucial to CLA, fostering teacher seminars by Crandall Shifflett on "Virtual Jamestown, by Deborah and Mark Parker on Dante, and by Lisa Reilly on Jefferson's architectural antecedents and his historical importance, and funding David Gies's "Cine Con Clase" a Spanish film archive designed by high school teachers for high school teachers that has garnered interest from instructors from over 40 countries across the globe.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, CLA continued to honor its vow of nurturing relationships between the university and schools, as well as becoming a major player in UVA's commitment to working with the Coalfields region in the southwest part of Virginia. From 2003 to 2014, CLA worked with the Southwest Virginia Public Education Consortium to secure four "Teaching American History" grants from the United States Department of Education. Through these grants, numerous UVa faculty traveled to Abingdon to interact with teachers from the 16 school districts within the Consortium, and Southwest Virginia teachers traveled to Charlottesville for residential summer seminars. The third of these grants issued in a certificate program for "History Specialists" modeled on Pitt's successful Math Specialists program, and the fourth generated the novel "My History Partner" adaptation of My Teaching Partner, and a new observational tool for measuring the teaching of history content, the Protocol for Assessing the Teaching of History, created by Stephanie Van Hover and David Hicks.

In addition to the programs in southwest Virginia, CLA has almost from its inception offered courses to teachers at Virginia Beach for teachers in that school division. Much current work (associated with the teaching of writing) is focused on the Richmond Public Schools.  CLA's on-Grounds programs attract teachers from around the state, including Northern Virginia, the Hampton Roads area, the Richmond area, and southwest Virginia; federally funded programs attract teachers from around the nation.

The grants from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have dramatically re-structured CLA: the first one created the Arthur Vining Davis Teaching Fellows, teachers who, having developed new knowledge in CLA programs, were funded to continue that work with UVa faculty towards developing classroom materials for their fellow teachers. The second grant added experienced teachers to the roster of UVA's Project Directors. The third, awarded in 2014, is fostering replication of CLA's models at partner institutions, including, so far, Howard University (Classics), James Madison University (Astronomy), the University of Albany (SUNY) (History), and the University of New Hampshire (Spanish), and via a collaboration with Teaching Tolerance that generated a program at the University of Richmond in March 2019.

Luftig is currently assisted by Program Coordinator Rebecca Abell Yancey and Associate Director Natsuko Rohde: they have brought enormous energy, efficiency, and expertise to the implementation of CLA's programs. Project Co-Director for English Lisa Woolfork will join Luftig as CLA's Co-Director in the Fall of 2019.

Begun as an experiment in 1984, the Center for the Liberal Arts has for more than three decades honored its mission of offering "programs for K-12 teachers designed to increase their knowledge of the content that they teach. It has also sustained and nurtured respectful relationships between university faculty—including some of the nation's most celebrated thinkers--and those K-12 teachers, collaborating with education and technology specialists and master teachers to create pedagogical tools and materials that are used around the globe. The Center now resides at 102 Cresap and continues to enjoy the support of the Office of the Provost, reporting directly to the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach, Louis Nelson.

Read Hal Kolb's extended history of the CLA's's first 15 years.