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CRLA - A brief history

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CRLA Position Statement on the Rights of Adult Readers and Learners (pdf)

CRLA Vision, Mission, & Guiding Principles

Organizations and CLADEA

A Brief History of CRLA 

CRLA’s founders—reading specialists in colleges of the western United States—were focused on the needs of college reading specialists, reading centers, and reading programs. These programs, which had been operating in a few colleges and universities for many years, were now developing in many more institutions as part of the “new” services for students in a new era of higher education. To meet the need for professional standards and professional development when colleges and universities were struggling with equal access, open doors, and academia’s higher responsibilities, our founders created the Western College Reading Association.


Western College Reading Association (WCRA): 1966-1983

Gene Kerstiens describes the birth: “At one-thirty A.M., the Saturday before Thanksgiving, 1966, in room 202 of the then Holiday Inn, San Bernardino, California, about 20 of those remaining at a five-and-one-half-hour meeting signed the blood oath, a document that has not survived. At the end of this assembly, the first president was appointed by himself (not elected) with the tacit approval of the group. It may not have been an auspicious inception, but it was colorful and collegially contentious.” Gil Williams hosted the meeting and obtained sponsorship from Carroll Edwards, regional representative of Science Research Associates. In response to a notice placed in the hotel lobby, 35 conference participants had met to discuss starting a college-oriented reading association. Among the attendees were Royce Adams (Santa Barbara City College), Jon Hagstrom (Columbia Junior College), Robert Griffin (College of the Desert), Gene Kerstiens (El Camino College), and Frank Christ (Loyola University of Los Angeles).

The active and dedicated group accomplished much in its first three years. At an early organizational meeting at the College of the Desert in March 1967, the constitution was adopted, officers were elected (President Robert Griffin, President-Elect Frank Christ, Secretary Loretta Newman of Los Angeles Harbor College, and Treasurer Gil Williams of San Bernardino Valley College), and annual dues were set at $5.00. At an Executive Board meeting in June, a quarterly newsletter was born; edited by Frank Christ, it began publication in September 1967. That October, an organizational meeting was held at the Kona Kai Hotel in San Diego to discuss an annual conference. Then in 1968, WCRA established a placement clearinghouse that listed positions for reading teachers.

Already in 1968, WCRA numbered 144 members representing twelve western states and Canada with over one half of the membership from California. WCRA also had fourteen chapters representing twelve states. In 1969, the treasurer was bonded, associate memberships were offered to administrators and librarians, and state directors were appointed by the president. Finally, a directory project was initiated to identify college reading teachers, their backgrounds, and their job descriptions to determine a potential standard for the field.

The first annual conference, themed “Creating Opportunities for Skillful Reading,” was held in April 1968 at the Ramada Inn in Phoenix, Arizona, hosted by Irwin Joffee, the director of the Reading Clinic at Phoenix City College. Dr. Robert Shafer, an Arizona State University reading professor, gave the keynote address: “The Practical Critic, the Rhetorician, and a Developing Model of Reading Comprehension.” At this first conference, the tradition of an evening hospitality suite for all members to meet with association officers and fellow members began as the “Informal Discussion of Vital Issues” (later known as the Friday Night Literary Society). Exhibiting wares were Reader’s Digest Services; Science Research Associates; Holt, Reinhart, and Winston; Addison-Wesley; and Educational Developmental Laboratories, a division of McGraw-Hill.

The City College of San Francisco hosted the second annual conference at the Airport Hilton in March 1969. Incoming president Frank Christ gave the keynote, “Organization, Development and Implementation of College Reading/Study Skills Programs: Assumptions and Conclusions.” Conference presenters included Drs. Martha Maxwell (University of California at Berkeley) and Jordan Utsey (State University of New York).

The third annual conference was held in March 1970 at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, hosted by Dr. Ned Marksheffel of Oregon State University. The keynote, “Should All Reading Teachers be Certified?” was delivered by president Irwin Joffee.

The 1970’s. WCRA grew fast in the 1970’s, a period of enormous change in higher education. Affirmative action, equal rights, and the “new student” rallied professionals in our field and stimulated rapid growth of learning centers, reading programs, and developmental studies across North America in response to new imperatives.

The young WCRA organization incorporated in 1972 and filed its constitution and bylaws with the Corporation Commission of New Mexico. In 1975 the Executive Board established WCRA’s unofficial motto: “the Blue Chip organization for college reading professionals.”

Student memberships were initiated at $2.50, half the fee of regular membership. The president-elect was made conference program chair, and on-site chairs handled local arrangements. Conference proceedings were edited by Frank Christ, with the first issue featuring papers and addresses from the first three conferences. The position of archivist was created in 1976, and a scholarship fund of $1,000 was set up in 1977 to award a yearly scholarship to graduate students pursuing degrees relevant to the interests of WCRA members. In 1979 the Board instituted an annual service award, too.

In 1977 a formal vote determined that all WCRA conferences would be held in the western region of the United States, but eventually the W in the name was expanded to mean the Western Hemisphere, and Canadians were formally invited into the organization. WCRA voted in 1978 to hold conferences only in states that had ratified the ERA; although that decision eventually became moot, some tentative conference site proposals were thwarted for a few years. Nevertheless, conferences were stimulating and collegial.

CRLA began formal liaisons with other professional organizations in 1977, and dues took a big leap to $15 in 1978. By 1983, WCRA had published 15 issues of conference Proceedings.

Western College Reading and Learning Association (WCRLA): 1983-1989

In 1983, after years of deliberation and discussion, the membership voted to expand its name to Western College Reading and Learning Association to welcome the many professionals in writing, learning assistance, tutorial programs, mathematics, developmental studies, counseling, and other fields who were finding WCRA conferences and publications beneficial to their professional experience.

WCRLA expanded member services with bigger and more diverse conferences, Special Interest Groups, and elections by mail ballot. In 1983, WCRLA replaced conference Proceedings with the double-blind-juried Journal of College Reading and Learning, edited by Delryn Fleming (Brookhaven College, Texas). To provide continuity, the offices of treasurer and secretary became two-year positions, elected in alternate years. A formal liaison relationship was established with the young sister organization of NADE. To better define the training needed by peer tutors, the now-recognized International Tutor Training Program Certification (ITTPC), was created, followed later by what is now the International Mentor Training Program Certification (IMTPC).

New WCRLA conference features included dinner-on-the-town night, newcomers’ welcome sessions, and a designated computer room. The first WCRLA conference was held at the Portland (Oregon) Marriott and keynoted by A. Garr Cranney of Brigham Young University. The next five WCRLA conferences (1984-1988) met in San Jose, Denver, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Sacramento, continuing the tradition of meeting every other year in California, alternating northern and southern locations.

College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA): 1989 to the present

The organization’s name was changed in 1989 to CRLA. Although there was sentimental angst about dropping “Western” from the name, membership across the United States and Canada and overseas is acknowledged in the current name: College Reading and Learning Association.

The 1990’s. The organization truly matured in the ’90’s, creating an election process that allows new officers adequate time to prepare for new duties; new Board positions of Membership Coordinator and Executive Assistant; contracts with commercial mailing services; more scholarships and awards; a strategic plan; an International Symposium on Teaching and Learning; and the Professional Association Liaison Committee. Annual conferences moved from spring to fall to avoid conflict with spring holy days and NARDSPE/NADE’s spring conference.

Martha Maxwell served as CRLA’s first director on the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, and CRLA helped develop CAS standards for learning assistance programs. In 1996, CRLA was a founding member of the American Council of Developmental Education Associations (ACDEA) to improve communication and facilitate action among associations. Also in the 1990’s, a Communications Task Force identified new means for CRLA officers to communicate with the general membership; a Past Officers’ Council was created to advise the Board; and dues rose from $25 to $40.

The 2000’s. Annual dues rose to $50 in 2003 to match costs. Despite campus funding cuts and travel restrictions, both membership and attendance at CRLA conferences have increased. The Call to Conference now arrives in members’ electronic mailboxes. The Association continues to meet professional development needs of its members by means of conferences, the Journal of College Reading and Learning, the now-electronic newsletter, e-bulletins, and expanding website.

The Board and membership adopted a Position Statement on the Rights of Adult Readers and Learners (2002) and Guidelines for Professional Ethics (2003). Eight Guiding Principles were adopted to replace the strategic plan. The number and value of scholarship and travel awards have increased, and projects initiated by Special Interest Groups and state/region/chapter groups are generously funded. CRLA tutor program certification, a revised edition of the Tutor Training Handbook, and new ITTPC pins for trained tutors are sought by more and more programs.

CRLA continues to nominate worthy ACDEA Fellows as paradigms of professional practice. The Association supported the work of ACDEA’s Blue Ribbon Commission and in the past year helped ACDEA transition into the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations (CLADEA) to take collaborative action for high standards and professional development. At more than years young, CRLA offers its fall conference to celebrate your work as members of the first organization in the field of college reading, learning assistance, developmental education, and student success!


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Last update: 30-Oct-2012

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Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) in Higher Education
Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations