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Former Dean of Faculty Clark Ross’s Scholarship Pushes Davidson Past $425 Million Milestone

Clark Ross
Clark Ross

Clark G. Ross, one of Davidson's most beloved professors and a past vice president for academic affairs, has established a multi-million dollar scholarship that pushes the college past its $425 million fundraising campaign milestone a year early.

Ross's planned scholarship gift–$3.6 million toward the college's Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World campaign–will support Catholic students with demonstrated financial need. Ross is vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty emeritus, having held the top academic post from 1998 to 2013. He now holds the Frontis W. Johnston Professor of Economics.

"Clark has given to Davidson students in every way–his time, energy, commitment and friendship–as he has given to all of us at this special college. His extraordinarily generous scholarship gift will support future students for generations to come," Davidson President Carol E. Quillen said. "How fitting that it is this gift from this truly special person, who so exemplifies what Davidson stands for, that pushed our campaign beyond the $425 million milestone."

The Game Changers campaign will continue into next year.

This latest funding reaches three aspirations, said Ross, as familiar on campus for his warm smile and unfailing name recall as for his generosity and sage counsel. His tenure at the helm of Academic Affairs was the second longest in school history, and he has served Davidson for nearly four decades.

First, the gift honors all the deans of faculty who have informed his own teaching and academic leadership: Frontis W. Johnston, T.C. Price Zimmermann, Bob Williams and Ross's successor, and current Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy Raymond.

Second, Ross wanted to give now, to fuel the campaign. He worked with college administrators to plan the gift but, until recent weeks, no one knew that it would accelerate the campaign past this momentous point.

Lastly, Ross wanted the scholarship to strengthen spiritual questioning as a vital part of a meaningful education. He received his Ph.D. from Boston College, a Jesuit school, and long has appreciated Davidson's grounding in the Reformed Tradition, an historical understanding of Christianity that values intellectual vigor and spiritual inclusivity. It lies close to the heart of Davidson's mission "to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service."

Davidson, founded by Presbyterians in 1837, today has a religiously and spiritually diverse student body. While approximately one-third of students don't identify with any specific religious tradition, the largest single denominational representation is Roman Catholic at approximately 18 percent, followed by Presbyterians at 9 percent. Other Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims comprise the rest of the student body. Last year, the College Chaplain's Office hired its first Buddhist Chaplain. The overall religious and spiritual conversation is much broader than when Ross arrived in 1979.

"You have students representing more faiths, and they're more willing to discuss questions of sexuality and questions of social practice than they previously were," he said. "Students recognize there are multiple dimensions to any problem, and that includes the ethical and spiritual."

A Davidson education is not just about the rigor of the curriculum, he said.

"We encourage students to question and grow spiritually and to respect different avenues of growth. A gift that is aimed at students with a religious conviction is perfectly consistent with that," Ross said, then smiled. "Now, there's no presumption that they will maintain that conviction. No one is going to be checking up on them."

Ross noted that the relatively high current number of Catholic students applying to Davidson ensures that his scholarship will not be too restrictive. It is available for international students as well, he said.

One of Ross's first initiatives at Davidson after his arrival in 1979 was to expand the college's international perspective and opportunities. He helped organize a 1984 meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk '31, which, one year later, launched the college's Dean Rusk International Studies Program.

Zimmermann, who appointed Ross to the faculty and, later, as economics department chair, said Ross used active scholarship to reinforce teaching and recruited first class professors.

"He embodied that rare combination of a winning personality, a deep Christian concern for others and high standards for both colleagues and students," Zimmermann said. "His infectious laugh and adroit management smoothed many a rough path. These are the qualities which have made him a beloved figure at the college and a close friend."

Ross credited his predecessors and successor in the Dean of Faculty role each with elevating the Davidson experience for students, from Johnston's commitment to academic rigor to Zimmermann's emphasis on faculty publication and research to Bob Williams's push toward interdisciplinary and international curriculum to Raymond's continuing drive for inclusivity and diversity in teaching, learning and the curriculum.

"As a devoted teacher and mentor, Clark continues to guide the faculty by example," Raymond said. "His love for Davidson shines through in all he does."

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John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2523