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Clark Honors College

University of Oregon Special Collections

1910. Robert D. Clark, 1 year old.
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President, Speech Professor, Writer

This web site provides, through the papers of Robert D. Clark and associated documents, a window into several important periods in the history of the University of Oregon, from 1943 to the present. These papers also include the years when Robert D. Clark was president of San Jose State University (then College). In particular, it provides access to a number of documents related to the history of civil rights and student protest in the years from 1964 to 1975.

Robert Donald Clark was president of the University of Oregon from 1969 to 1975.

It was a challenging era: student protests dominated the news, and the university was called upon by students and public alike to define itself in relationship to the great issues of the times. The University of Oregon could become the victim of conflict, succumbing to pressure and to budget crises. Or it could rise to the occasion and increase in it intellectual and cultural stature. Clark Kerr thought that the University of Oregon had done better than the University of California in making these years into a chance for growth.

There are many other items of interest in the Clark papers as well, in particular related to his interests in speech, rhetoric, debate, and history. He received a B.A. in English and History from Pasadena College in 1931, an M.A. in Speech from the University of Southern California in 1935, and a Ph.D. in Speech from USC in 1946: his dissertation topic was a biographical approach to the oratory and influence of Bishop Matthew Simpson. During the 1930s and 1940s, he coached debate and symposium teams in California and Oregon, was editor of Western Speech, and president of the Western Speech Association. Papers from that era provide a detailed history of developments in the field of speech and rhetoric. He then became Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Dean of Faculties at the University of Oregon during the years from 1952 to 1964. He interested himself in the establishment of an Honors College at the University, and in the development of the sciences. In 1964 he left to become the president of San Jose State College. During those years, 1964-1969, San Jose State was the center of racial protest about the treatment of black athletes, addressed issues of student unrest, and a faculty strike. Clark was a popular president at both San Jose and the University of Oregon, known for his dedication to the rights of students and to curricular innovation.

After retirement, Robert Clark turned once again to writing and scholarship. He published The Biography of Thomas Condon, a history of the Congregational minister, collector of fossils, and the renowned professor of geology at the University of Oregon in its early days. A number of articles on other important figures in the history of the university also appeared. The archives include not only reflections about his childhood (Clark was born in Frontier County, Nebraska, in 1910), but papers associated with his own book about the homesteading of Nebraska, Rain Follows the Plow.