CARMEL VALLEY — It was but one tumultuous year in a brilliant life that has persisted for another highly productive, rewarding 51 years. Yet this is the year that weighs on his heart and mind, the year that prompted Duncan Clarke to write a book. Whether or not he expected to arrive at any great truths, he did imagine it would help get his story off his chest.
The thing is, researching and writing and building a story into a book tends to bring it back into focus as if it’s breaking news.
Clarke had earned his bachelor’s degree at Clark University, his Juris Doctor at Cornell University, and his Ph.D. in political science and international relations at the University of Virginia. His fellowship was ending and he was ready to apply what he’d learned. But in 1969, no one seemed to be clamoring for the “overeducated American,” except for a public women’s college in Southwest Virginia which presumed a 28-year-old scholar had something to say.
Clarke figured he’d be on the faculty for a year before moving on. And he was right.
“I was on campus less than two weeks,” he said, “when a student came into my office, having heard I had a legal background. She said she was about to be expelled after an unannounced dorm search had unearthed vodka from a trunk in her closet. My legal background did kick in, as I knew she’d received no protection under the Fourth Amendment.”
Clarke’s efforts to uphold students’ rights led to a series of what, he is still unsure today, were adventures or tragedies — at least, on behalf of his career at the college. It also led to his new book, “A Little Rebellion is a Good Thing: Troubles at Traymore College,” which offers his readers and himself a little perspective on the power of advocacy,
“I focused on the First Amendment for students who protested the Vietnam War, and I filed lawsuits on behalf of the Fourth Amendment. But I had to be careful,” he said. “Being a single 28-year-old man at a school with 4,000 single women was a hazard for someone challenging the administration. I needed allies, and I found them among students and female faculty. Meanwhile, the president threatened to ensure I never got another job.”
Less than two years after Clarke left, the president was removed from his office, and the college became coed.
“I was acutely aware that my two overriding objectives – personal and professional survival – were in jeopardy when I decided to help change the college’s culture by confronting its repressive longtime president,” said Clarke. “Academic year 1969-1970 was at once frightening and exhilarating, stressful and sensual, traumatic and life-changing.”
Fifty years later, Clarke finally felt ready to relate the essence of his experiences, albeit as fiction. He blew the dust off the student handbook he’d kept to remember the rules constraining his students, and started writing.
“With my legal background,” he said, “I knew if I approached the book as a historian, I’d need access to original documents for proof. At this point, I’m too far away from that time and place. Through writing workshops at CSU Monterey Bay, I realized I enjoy working in fiction; it gives me a lot more flexibility to be inventive, creating an alchemy of accuracy and entertainment.”
So this became his premise: In September 1969, a young New Yorker found himself in a sea of 4,000 single women, creating waves in an era of profound social change. The basic academic freedoms of students and faculty were severely constrained. And sensitive interpersonal relationships had to be delicately finessed.
“As I developed the book,” said Clarke, “my portrayal of main characters was grounded largely in reality. To my knowledge, all personal names have been changed.”
Some events and titles — including the name of the college — also were altered or were products of Clarke’s imagination on behalf of the narrative he was building around his experiences.
Clarke’s first foray into writing a fiction-finessed story of his own encounters has encouraged him to write a second book, chronicling his hike along the Appalachian trail with his late wife, and two daughters. Building a storyline on conflict and resolution, he created an Emersonian context of self-reliance and nonconformity, as he juxtaposed ethical, moral, and practical decisions.
Time to tell about it
After leaving what he calls “Traymore College” in 1970, Duncan Clarke became a professor of international relations in American University’s School of International Service in Washington from which he retired, after 37 years. He served as professor of National Security at the National War College of the National Defense University in Washington and has guest-lectured at the Naval Postgraduate School. Clarke also was a visiting professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.
Having traded teaching for writing, at a time in his life, he says, when wisdom and experience are best professed through memoirs, Clarke appreciates that he finally sat down to write a book about women rising to uphold their rights 50 years before the Me Too Movement had a name.
Duncan Clarke currently lives above Carmel Valley, at the top of a 3-mile ridge framing the Santa Lucias, with his wife, attorney Anne Clarke, who teaches at the Monterey College of Law, and their elderly canine companion, Coco.
Contributed by local news sources