A Brief History of the Chautauqua Program from the DAY (U Dayton) Center                    

By George Miner, Professor Emeritus, University of Dayton
August 2017 (last paragraph updated by Sue Ann Heatherly in 2022)


After a brief pilot program in 1970-71, the National Science Foundation (NSF) introduced the Chautauqua Program for faculty development for college and university science teachers in 1971-72.  They borrowed the “Chautauqua” name from the Chautauqua arts program of New York state that was very prominent in the early twentieth century and continues at Lake Chautauqua NY today.  The original NSF program had 12 Field Centers spread across the country coordinated by a grant to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The AAAS selected topics and presenters for the 12 centers, three located in each of the major time zones.  In many cases a given course was offered once in each time zone, thus bringing them close to most geographical areas. The courses were free to college faculty.  (Disclosure:  I was a participant in three of the courses in the early 70s.)


Early on there was a question about the NSF program using the “Chautauqua” name.  For a while the courses were called “Chautauqua-type” courses.  That did not last long.


In 1980 NSF decided to renew the 12 centers and invited new proposals.  The result was the naming of 4 new centers to join 8 of the remaining centers.  One of the new centers was the University of Dayton with myself as its Field Center Director.


1980 Centers: Christian Brothers C, U of Dayton, U of Georgia, Hampshire C, U of Iowa, Oregon Grad Cen, Parkland C, Polytechnic Inst of NY, Santa Ana C, Temple U, U of Texas Austin, U of Utah; 97 courses offered in 1980-81


When the three year grant ended in 1983, NSF announced that no Field Centers would be funded in 1984.  At that point the 12 Field Center Directors and the AAAS met in Washington DC to explore the possibility of keeping the effort alive until NSF might return to the program.  The financial shortfall was to be met by charging the participants a fee, initially $125 per course.  By the end of that meeting, half of the centers and the AAAS walked away.  The other six centers including Dayton agreed to try the fee-based program.  They formed a group known as the National Council of Chautauqua Field Center Directors (NCCFCD).


Prior to the end of 1983 the courses were mostly in a classroom on a campus, meeting for two days in the fall and two days in the spring.  Participants left the first session with a project to do and report on at the second session.  Some 20% of the participants did not return for the second session.  In part due to the new course fee it was decided to change the course format to meet in one three day session, reducing travel costs.  The number not returning for the second session also influenced this decision.  Most of these unfunded courses ran, but with numbers smaller than the earlier free courses.  A note:  before 1984 the Chautauqua year began at the fall beginning of the academic year; afterwards it became the calendar year.


The non-funded period extended for 5 years.  At that point NSF opened a program to which we could apply.  We applied as a group, NCCFCD.  I wrote the proposal from the University of Dayton.  We detailed our activities during the five year unfunded period in addition to the new proposed activity.  Soon after we received a call and the NSF representative indicated that they liked what we had done during the unfunded period.  We learned that we had requested more funds than the national program contained.  After a brief negotiation we settled on support for 70 courses which began the following year with the six centers.  The centers selected their own topics and presenters.  This was the first year of what was to become a 19 consecutive year span of NSF support at about the same level.  During the following years there was some variation in the number of centers.


1990 Centers: California State U Long Beach, Christian Brothers C, U of Dayton, U Missouri KC, Northern Illinois U, Oregon Grad Cen, Temple U, U of Texas Austin; 67 courses offered in 1990



During the 90s the total courses tended to number in the 80s each year.  Participation was good.  One of the most pleasant observations from the Field Center point of view, is that once a faculty member participated in a course it was very common for that person to attend other courses in the future and to recommend them to his or her friends or colleagues. 


2000 Centers: California State U, Christian Brothers C, U of Dayton, Harvard U, Northern Illinois U, U of Pittsburgh, Temple U, U of Texas Austin; 118 courses offered in 2000


From 2000 until 2006 the total number of courses was typically around 110.  Participation was good.


Three times during the life of this program, the NSF funded an outside agent to do a third-party evaluation of the program.  Each time the results were remarkably supportive.  The most recent around 2003 involved some 600 telephone interviews of participants.  Responders were asked to rate items such as quality of the course, quality of the presenter, and should the course be offered again.   The responses to questions yielded percentages in the very high 90s.  The results were very satisfying.


The final funded year was 2007.  To my knowledge there has been no funding for this type of course by NSF since then; all courses have been fee based.  The 2008 centers were California State U, U of Dayton, Stony Brook U, U of Texas Austin, and U of Washington.  In the following years the total number of participants for the five centers declined.  After the 2009 season two centers ceased operation, Stony Brook and Washington. 


2010 Centers:  California State U, U of Dayton, and U of Texas Austin; 31 courses offered in 2010


After the 2015 year two others centers stopped, California and Texas, leaving only Dayton.  The Dayton participants have remained relative firm, as follows.  After 2007, the average of the first five years was 127 participants per year; the most recent five year period yielded 161 participants per year.


In 2020 Chautauqua courses were suspended due to Covid Pandemic travel concerns, and remained on hiatus through summer, 2022.


Now, in 2023, Chautauqua continues at the Green Bank Observatory. University of Dayton is no longer a field center.  We welcome additional institutions who would like to offer a Chautauqua-style short course. Please contact Sue Ann Heatherly and we’ll share all that we know to help you get set up.