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Former Binghamton University President dies at 88

Clifford Clark remembered as founder of Watson School of Engineering, proponent of campus diversity

Clifford Clark, former Binghamton University president, died Jan. 31 in Detroit, Mich. He was 88.

Photo Provided Clifford Clark, back left, former Binghamton University president, died Jan. 31 in Detroit, Mich. He was 88.

Originally the vice president for academic affairs, Clark was appointed as the fourth president of BU in 1975.

According to Michael F. McGoff, senior vice provost at BU, Clark worked on how to advance BU prior to his presidency, making connections in both the political and business sectors.

“He was knowledgeable about issues in higher education and he clearly identified with faculty concerns,” McGoff wrote. “From the beginning I had the impression, and I was not alone, that Cliff Clark was here to take Binghamton to the next level.”

One of the founders of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, Clark planned for the school’s creation early on and used his connections to make the school a reality, according to McGoff.

“It was Cliff Clark who, behind the scenes, brought these powerful people together to, over time, realize the vision he had years before to have engineering programs on the Binghamton Campus,” McGoff wrote. “Together, those founders, led by the chief founder, President Clark, overcame the strong opposition and established the long sought after engineering programs on our campus.”

Clark also pushed for a SUNY-wide fellowship program to support historically underrepresented groups, resulting in the Clifford D. Clark Graduate Fellowship Program for Diversity established in 1990.

“He wanted to be sure, it was clear to me, that those chosen for these fellowships had everything it took to succeed academically,” McGoff wrote. “He wanted to support those graduate students who would literally change the face of Binghamton University. I worked with him to make those selections and it was abundantly clear that, to Cliff, these were among the most important decisions being made on the campus.”

During Clark’s presidency, the percentage of minority students at BU more than tripled from 5 to 16 percent in five years.

“[As] President, he had made it abundantly clear that Binghamton needed more diversity on campus and he was going to lead the charge to make that happen,” McGoff wrote. “It was crucial to him.”

Clark was also involved in expanding the Decker School of Nursing and creating the Binghamton University forum during his presidency.

Despite leading BU through these changes, Clark was described as being soft-spoken and more interested in listening than speaking.

“He was not a charismatic leader who could energize an audience, but in smaller groups he impressed with an empathy and sincerity that won him the respect of his colleagues and the affection and admiration of his students,” said Clifford Kern, an economics professor at BU.

McGoff drew parallels between Clark and current BU President Harvey Stenger, saying the two each had hands-on approaches to administration and set their sights on expansion.

“Clifford Clark was a superb and visionary leader,” McGoff wrote. “He was exactly the right person to take SUNY Binghamton to the next level during some very trying times. He more than succeeded.”

Clark was president for 15 years before stepping down in 1990 to rejoin the economics department as a professor. According to Kern, Clark took a personal approach with teaching, getting to know each of his students, regardless of class size.

Clark retired from teaching full-time in 1996, but remained on staff part-time until 2000.

A World War II veteran, Clark served with the 42nd Infantry and helped liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, Germany in 1945. After the war, Clark earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago.

Clark is survived by his wife, Linda Beale, his son, Geoffrey and his daughter, Kathryn Clark Emery.

Donations can be made in his memory in support of the Clifford D. Clark Fellowship Program for Diversity through the foundation at BU.