Distinguished University Leader David Fithian ’87 Named Clark University President
David Fithian, whose academic career began as a Clark University undergraduate and progressed to senior leadership roles at Harvard University and the University of Chicago, has been unanimously elected Clark’s 10th president by the Board of Trustees, Chair Ross Gillman ’81 has announced. Fithian, a 1987 graduate of Clark who earned two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree from Yale University, currently serves as Executive Vice President at Chicago. He joins Clark amid its recent success with new undergraduate and graduate enrollments overcoming national trends and following its bold investments in integrated experiential learning. He will begin his duties as Clark’s president on July 1.
Fithian described the opportunity to become president of his alma mater as “singular,” crediting Clark for inspiring him to pursue a life in higher education and expressing a desire to apply what he has learned to help Clark and its current students achieve even greater success and recognition. His decades of preparation for this role at two of the world’s great universities gives him confidence about Clark’s standing and potential to achieve yet more.
“I’m returning to a place that’s deeply familiar to me and where I’ll feel instantly rooted. I definitely have a sense of coming home,” he said. “I know what it felt like to be a student here, what was great about it, and what could have helped me even more. I’m excited to engage the entire community around the many strengths upon which we can build as well as vital new aspirations for the future.”
Fithian added, “One cannot serve in the roles I’ve been in at Harvard or Chicago and not think boldly. I’m drawn to pursuing big ideas, to embracing challenges, and to facing tough questions. I have a sense that many at Clark today are thinking big as well. I look forward to developing a shared understanding across the University about where we want to go and how best to get there. Anyone familiar with Clark’s past and its people should feel inspired about its future.”
Gillman, who chaired the Presidential Search Committee, called Fithian “an innovative, strategic leader, and a tremendous team builder, with the breadth and scope of experience and vision that make him uniquely qualified to lead Clark.” He added, “It says something important about David that after such a rigorous process, the committee unanimously selected him on its first ballot. The search committee and Board of Trustees believe David is the transformational leader we were looking for, and we are convinced that he has the ability to take an already exceptional university and move it forward in a way we’ve never seen. Beyond that, he’s a Clarkie. We’re part of his DNA.”
Fithian said he wants to continue strengthening Clark’s distinctive combination of a rigorous liberal arts education embedded within a midsize research university with a number of strong graduate programs. A Clark education, he noted, should be fully immersive. We should provide “the broadest, richest, deepest learning experience that students can have by more fully integrating opportunities in the classroom and laboratory with those in the arts, internships, community service, athletics, and residential life.”
Fithian succeeds David P. Angel, who is retiring at the end of June following a distinguished 32-year career at Clark, including the last 10 years as president. Gillman lauded Angel’s foundational leadership, saying he has given the University a formidable presence on the higher education landscape and positioned the institution as a desirable destination for a new president.
“We had a roster of very impressive candidates because of Clark’s reputation and record, and that’s directly attributable to the efforts of David Angel over the last decade,” Gillman said.
In recent years, Clark has launched the LEEP Student Success Network, amplified its work in diversity and inclusion, and opened the Shaich Family Alumni and Student Engagement Center. This summer the University will conclude Campaign Clark, the most successful comprehensive campaign in its history.
As the University prepares to welcome Fithian during this momentous time, Chair of the Faculty and search committee member Gino DiIorio ’83 looks forward to his impact. “David Fithian will be a force to be reckoned with — he can be a real gamechanger,” he said. “We’re at an inflection point in higher ed, and it’s good to have someone with a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening and what’s needed. He understands the synergies of our strong undergraduate and graduate programs and has a wonderful sense of Worcester and our role in the community. As an alumnus, David also will engage Clark’s alumni in a way that expands the circle. It’s an exciting time to be a Clarkie.”
Since 2007, Fithian has been a central figure in the dramatic momentum underway at the University of Chicago, with roles spanning major operations, academic program development, support of the University’s Board of Trustees, executive recruitment, and fundraising. He participates in university financial strategy and budget planning; oversees campus master planning, including architectural design for major capital projects and campus enhancements; and oversees the Office of the President and its budget, the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, the University’s public programs for the arts (including the Smart Museum of Art, Court Theatre, and Logan Center for the Arts), and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Among his many accomplishments at Chicago, Fithian spearheaded the establishment of good governance practices; contributed to the opening of global centers in Beijing and Delhi (and is currently overseeing construction of a new center in Paris), helped to plan for and implement the most recent stages of an unprecedented campus facility renewal program spanning over 50 capital projects, including 18 new buildings; proposed and guided the appointment of a faculty committee on freedom of expression; led executive searches; and played a major role in designing the university’s recently concluded campaign, which surpassed its $5 billion goal.
Before joining Chicago in 2007, Fithian served for twelve years at Harvard, holding increasingly elevated responsibilities. As assistant dean of freshmen and, later, the Allston Burr Senior Tutor (resident dean) of Adams House, he oversaw the academic standing and personal well-being of more than 500 first-year and 400 upper-class students each year. As associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he coordinated all aspects of faculty governance, including the monitoring and coordination of faculty-related policies, procedures, and legislation.
A New York City/Westchester County native, Fithian graduated from Clark as a sociology and English major with a passion for art and architecture and earned his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Yale. His dissertation, “A Dark and Shining Stone: Symbol Contests and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” received the Theron Rockwell Field Prize, the first time a social science dissertation received this distinguished literary award. He has lectured in the departments of sociology at Yale, the University of Connecticut, and Harvard, where he also taught seminars for the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies.
Fithian and his husband, Michael Rodriguez, Ph.D., recently celebrated their 25th anniversary together and their 15th anniversary of legal marriage. They met in graduate school at Yale, where Michael received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. He completed his clinical and post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School before serving as the Resident Dean of Adams House and teaching innovative and influential courses in the Department of Psychology at Harvard. He and Fithian raise and breed Friesian horses on the couple’s farm in northwest Indiana.
Fithian’s appointment follows a rigorous national search that began last March under the direction of a 19-member search committee representing trustees, faculty, administrators, and students and with the support of Shelly Storbeck of the Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates search firm.
“David possesses leadership qualities that Clark is primed to take advantage of at this moment in our history. He has the capacity to think boldly and displays a talent for team-building that will move us to the next level. David understands that we can’t wait to capitalize on the great work that’s been done here over the last 10 years. He knows how to tell the Clark story, and he compels you to lean in and listen.”
Dean of the Faculty and Search Committee Member
“The University of Chicago is known as one of the best-run institutions in the country. And David has been central to its evolution and transformation. He has the ability to help Clark compete in a world that is getting ever more difficult for smaller institutions. We recognize there are strategic and tactical adjustments that need to be made to succeed, and as he makes hard decisions and real choices, he will be doing so with an alumnus’ intimate knowledge of Clark — what we value, what we are, and what makes the University special. With David, we’re setting ourselves up as powerfully as we can to have a successful future, and he’s the right individual to lead us there.”
Ronald Shaich ’76
Vice Chair, Board of Trustees and Search Committee Member
“I have had the benefit and pleasure of working closely with David Fithian here for over a decade. He is a highly effective strategic leader, with extraordinary wisdom about the complexity of universities and the concerns of all their complex constituencies. He is a person of deep integrity and is highly respected by all who work with him or interact with him. He makes things happen. He will bring all these outstanding qualities and more, qualities that I see every day, to the presidency at Clark, and I am fully confident that the story that will unfold in the coming years will be a great one for Clark.”
President, University of Chicago
“Changing our world in a bold way is part of who we are at Clark. That also means challenging the institution itself. Students will give David a chance to breathe a bit, then they’ll be knocking on his door to share their ideas and hear his perspectives. When he talked with students during the search process, he really listened and made us feel validated. I believe we’re on the brink of astounding progress at Clark. I’ll be so proud to return here as an alum in a few years and see how far my University has come.”
Emma Dinnerstein ’20
President of the Undergraduate Student Council and Search Committee Member
About Clark University
- Education beyond the classroom: Clark’s curriculum is centered by Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP), which connects classroom learning with world and workplace experiences. In fact, 100% of Clark students complete an experiential learning opportunity.
- Personalized learning: Clark’s student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1.
- Enrollment growth: The Class of 2023 is one of Clark’s largest in recent years, boasting 665 members from 38 states and 25 countries — 17.5% first-generation college students. In 2019-2020, graduate programs saw an enrollment surge of 100% across the Graduate School of Management, School of Professional Studies, and the International Development, Community, and Environment Department.
- Prepared students: 98% of the class of 2019 was employed, in graduate school, or performing community service within six months of graduation.
- Renowned community partnerships: Clark’s University Park Partnership with the City of Worcester has earned national recognition for supporting transformational work in urban education. With our community partners, Clark has helped reduce youth violence, improve public health, and conduct essential research into economic growth and well-being in midsize cities.
- National reputation: Clark is one of only 40 schools included in “Colleges That Change Lives,” a groundbreaking guide that describes the University as a place where “a teenager can make things happen.”
Founded in 1887, Clark University is a liberal arts-based research university that prepares its students to meet tomorrow’s most daunting challenges and embrace its greatest opportunities. Through 33 undergraduate majors, nearly 30 advanced degree programs, and nationally recognized community partnerships, Clark fuses rigorous scholarship with authentic world and workplace experiences that empower our learning community to pursue lives and careers of meaning and consequence. Clark’s academic departments and institutes develop solutions to complex global problems across the disciplines, and the University addresses the behavioral health of adolescents and young adults through the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise.