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The Life and Work of Kenneth E. Clark, PhD

Kenneth E. Clark (1914 — 2000)
By David Campbell from American Psychologist, February 2002

Kenneth E. Clark, one of the American Psychological Association's (APA's) most active members over a 50-year period, passed away gently June 21, 2000, at his home in Naples, Florida. He had been in poor health for several months, and his passing was not unexpected.

Kenneth was born of Quaker parents in Madison, Ohio, on December 18, 1914. He received his doctorate in psychology from the Ohio State University in 1940 and shortly thereafter joined the faculty of the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota.

During World War II, Kenneth moved to Washington, DC, and, as a civilian, worked for the U.S. Army and then the Army Air Force; subsequently, he worked as a commissioned officer with the U.S. Navy. He assessed the talents and skills of sailors and then assigned them to occupational specialties, exhibiting a general interest in talent and assessment that he was to retain for the remainder of his career.

Returning to the University of Minnesota after the war, Ken served as department chairman from 1957 to 1960 and then served a brief stint as associate dean of the graduate school. In 1960, he moved to the University of Colorado at Boulder as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In the spring of 1963, Kenneth moved to the University of Rochester, again as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, a position he held until his retirement in 1980.

Kenneth was always a popular teacher and administrator, winning several student awards for excellent teaching. During his time at the University of Rochester, he was honored by an Alumni Citation to Faculty.

Kenneth's lengthy involvement with the APA is difficult to summarize in a few words. He led the following APA committees or boards over roughly a 20-year period: Project B—A Survey of American Psychologists, 1953-1956; Education and Training Board, 1957-1958; Policy and Planning Board, 1959-1960; Advisory Panel, APA-NSF Research Project on Scientific Information Exchange, 1961-1966; Committee on the Professional and Scientific Aims of Psychology, 1963-1966; Board of Scientific Affairs, 1966-1967; Council of Editors, 1968-1970 (and editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology, 1961-1970); Communications Committee, 1970-1972; Publications and Communications Board, 1975. In addition, he was president of the American Psychological Foundation from 1968 to 1970.

Beyond APA, Kenneth also represented psychology in an amazing array of roles. He was a member of the President's National Medal of Science Committee, president of the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology, chair of the Association for the Advancement of Psychology, chair of the American Conference of Academic Deans, chair of the Research Advisory Board for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a member of the Army Scientific Advisory Panel, and chair of the Veterans Administration's Area Advisory Council in Psychology.

Kenneth received numerous formal awards. Among them were the Annual Outstanding Research Award from the American Personnel and Guidance Association in 1963, the E. K. Strong Memorial Gold Medal for excellence in psychological testing in 1967, appointment as a honorary life fellow by the Canadian Psychological Association in 1968, the Centennial Achievement Award from the Ohio State University in 1970, and the Gold Medal Award of the American Psychological Foundation in 1986 for a lifetime of exceptional contributions to psychology.

One of Kenneth's major contributions was the nurturance and growth of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in Greensboro, North Carolina. He joined the center's board of governors in 1972. On his retirement from the University of Rochester, he became president of the center from 1981 to 1985. Under Kenneth's guidance, the center flourished and is today one of psychology's most respected applied, nonprofit institutions. When he retired for the second time, to become a Smith Richardson Senior Scientist (for life), his retirement gifts from the CCL staff included a 12-foot-long, 3-inch-diameter wooden pole with the inscription, "For Kenneth Clark, a leader who routinely solves problems that other people wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole."

One of Kenneth's major contributions to the field was the 1957 book America's Psychologists: A Survey of a Growing Profession. The book was part two of a project initiated by the APA Policy and Planning Board to assess (a) the theoretical underpinnings of psychology and (b) the personnel and employment patterns of psychology. Part one was directed by Sigmund Koch and eventually published in six volumes as Psychology: A Study of a Science (1959-1963).

America's Psychologists focused on members of the profession. Under Clark's direction, the book synthesized a congeries of studies on the education and employment of various subpopulations of psychologists. Clark wove these disparate studies into a cohesive picture of the psychological profession in the mid-1950s. For the next 20 years or so, this highly visible book established Clark's position within the profession as a leading expert on matters of psychological training and employment.

During his last 15 years, Kenneth and Miriam, his wife, lived in Naples, Florida, writing about leadership and working actively in their community, contributing their administrative and diplomatic talents especially in the arts and in education.

The combination of Kenneth's professional and scientific brilliance, his reasoned leadership style, his intense loyalty to both his profession and the institutions that he served, and his personal charm was awesome, resulting in important contributions to the profession of psychology, its institutions, and the personal lives of countless individuals. His life can be summed up by a quote from John Gardner: "Some people strengthen the fabric of society just by being the kind of people that they are." Those who worked closely with him and knew him well will deeply miss him.