Celebrating Fifty Years

College of Liberal Arts
College of Liberal Arts
College of Liberal Arts located in the Carol C. Harter Classroom Building Complex

The College of Liberal Arts began in 1971 as the College of Arts and Letters, with historian Robert Davenport serving as acting dean and nearly 1,400 students enrolled. Two years later, Wilbur Stevens, then president of Prescott College in Arizona, became the college's founding dean. Consisting of 11 departments and several programs, such as ethnic studies and law enforcement, the college also offered coursework in interdisciplinary programs, including comparative literature, fine arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Over the next several years, the college established new programs, such as American studies and women's studies. By 1985, the diverse college had grown to 15 departments, ranging from music and speech and theatre arts to social work and public administration.

Productive Decade

The 1980s marked an especially productive period for the college. Under Dean Thomas Wright's leadership, academic and publication standards rose. In addition to establishing the Center for Advanced Research to provide funding and course reassignments to support more faculty research, Wright created the University Forum Lecture Series, offering the community a diverse selection of lectures, poetry readings, demonstrations, music recitals, and dance performances by UNLV faculty, as well as scholars and intellectuals from around the world.

Wright also used his experience traveling and teaching in Latin America to set up UNLV's first study abroad program in San Miguel, Mexico, and was instrumental in getting the UNLV into the University Studies Abroad Consortium. The university designated the 1986-87 school year as “The Year of the Arts,” which showcased the college by raising public awareness of the arts through special exhibitions, concerts, and lectures. In the late '80s, the college began offering its first doctoral programs, in English and sociology.

New Focus

After a university reorganization, the College of Liberal Arts emerged in 1990 with a focus on the humanities and social sciences. The college now enrolls more than 3,000 students in 12 different areas of interest. In addition to bachelor's degrees in philosophy, Afro-American studies, French, German, and Romance languages, the college offers undergraduate and graduate programs in anthropology, English, Spanish, history, political science, psychology, sociology, and women's studies. Interdisciplinary study remains an important part of the college, which offers bachelor's degrees in Asian, Latin American, cultural, and social science studies and multi-disciplinary studies in forensic science.

Community Outreach

Over the years, the College of Liberal Arts has reached out to the community in many ways:

  • The University Forum Lecture Series annually offers more than 30 free events, attracting about 4,000 people.
  • The Women's Research Institute of Nevada, directed by history professor Joanne Goodwin, is dedicated to helping improve the lives of women in the state through research and education.
  • Housed in the sociology department, the Center for Democratic Culture works closely with local organizations to stage forums on the problems of democracy, conduct seminars on issues central to local community, and develop innovative programs in civic education.
  • The Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic, overseen by psychology professor Christopher Kearney, assesses and treats children ages 5 to 17 who avoid school due to specific fears or trouble separating from parents.

Looking Ahead

The most recent dean, Edward Shoben, who assumed the position in 2004, undertook a series of initiatives to improve the college: creating a more diverse faculty; reducing the number of part-time instructors and increasing the contact students at all levels have with full-time faculty; recruiting faculty with ambitious agendas; and improving scholarship by reforming the merit system to reward excellent work as well as the impact of past work upon the field. The current interim dean, Christopher Hudgins, long-time chair of the English Department, will work to further enhance the quality of the college's faculty, teaching, and publications.


1971 - Robert Davenport, acting dean, College of Arts and Letters
1973 - Wilbur Stevens
1975 - Marvin Loflin
1978 - John Unrue
1983 - Thomas Wright
1989 - Paul Burns
1990 - James Malek, dean, College of Liberal Arts
1994 - Hart Wegner, interim
1995 - Guy Bailey
1997 - James Frey
2004 - Edward Shoben
2007 - Christopher Hudgins, interim