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Meet DU’s New Provost, Mary Clark

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Nicole Militello

Senior Media Relations Specialist

Nicole Militello

News  • Feature  •
Mary Clark

Mary Clark, the University of Denver’s new provost and executive vice chancellor, is no stranger to paving the way. From litigating civil rights cases as a young lawyer to working on research for the Supreme Court about the first women judges, Clark has always been ready to step up and lead into uncharted territory. That history of leadership will stand her well as she guides the University’s academic programming through the coronavirus pandemic and into the future.

“What I’m looking forward to the most is meeting the DU community,” Clark says, noting how exciting it's been to see campus come to life with students and faculty returning. “I think we’ve shown tremendous leadership not only in the COVID-related research we are doing, but also in terms of the way we’ve approached the reopening of campus. It’s been done in a remarkably thoughtful way.”

As Clark sizes up her new job, she’s taking note of the University’s research enterprise and its capacity for innovation. The groundbreaking coronavirus research underway at DU caught her attention right away. DU scientists are working to advance testing by researching and piloting a low-cost, reliable saliva test. What’s more, a recently launched research enterprise will monitor wastewater to determine whether different parts of campus are experiencing increased positivity for the virus. 

Clark looks forward to helping DU enhance its reputation as a premier research institution, even during a public health crisis drastically impacting how we live.

“We had a very impressive year thanks substantially to Corinne Lengsfeld [who served as interim provost before Clark arrived] and all the faculty researchers,” Clark says. “We had our highest research funding year ever, despite the fact there’s a pandemic, which is remarkable. How do we continue that? We continue to support our faculty, especially related to their research, to have an environment that is conducive to faculty success and achievement, and then celebrate our faculty. I look forward to being a champion of faculty more broadly and our faculty researchers in particular.”

Among Clark’s biggest academic priorities for DU is a close look at programs in STEM and innovation spaces. Also, she plans to look at how DU can advance relationships across fields to focus on everything from engineering to business and law? Sports represents another area of potential academic opportunity, perhaps building on and branching from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology’s program in sport and performance psychology.

Long before beginning her job in mid-July, Clark was impressed with the DU community’s desire for collaboration and its love of learning.

“There was this sense of joy that students expressed about working with faculty and [that] faculty expressed about work with students,” Clark says, recalling her first visits to campus while interviewing for the job. “I took away this sense of mutuality of engagement and delight that students and faculty derived from this relationship with one another. It was very exciting to see that.”

The strong connection between DU’s faculty and students reminds Clark of why she wanted to go into academia: to work with the students. But before coming to that conclusion, she plunged into a law career. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she started clerking for an appellate judge in Montgomery, Alabama because she was interested in focusing on civil rights law. She then moved to Washington, D.C., where, as a new lawyer, she started litigating first-impression cases, or cases presenting the court with issues that haven’t been heard before. First-impression cases cover such topics as disability rights and sexual harassment.

As challenging and rewarding as this work was, Clark missed her time in the classroom, where, as a teaching assistant during her law school years, she had come to enjoy connections with students and the process of learning. Over the next few years she worked at Georgetown University Law Center, Yale Law School and even as a Supreme Court Fellow. She says the first highlight of that experience was was working with retired Justice Byron White (a Colorado native) on a commission to restructure the federal courts of appeals.

“The second highlight was conducting significant research on the history of women judges on the federal courts, which was a fabulous learning opportunity,” Clark recalls. “Years later, I was invited back to give a lecture to the Supreme Court chamber on the first women members of the Supreme Court bar, hosted by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was, of course, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and so that was very exciting!”

For the past 19 years, Clark worked at American University in Washington, D.C., where she started as law professor and most recently served as deputy provost and dean of faculty. Her roles included overseeing the study abroad program, the career center and implementing strategic goals related to inclusive pedagogy. All of her experiences have prepared her for a cross-country move to the Mile High City and to DU.  

“It’s very evident this is a university that is really on the move—it’s dynamic, it’s ambitious, and it’s energized,” Clark says. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the members of the DU community.”

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