The man whose name was long synonymous with the Department of Political Science at Kenyon, Professor Emeritus Harry M. Clor, has died at the age of 89. Clor served on the faculty from 1965 to 1999 and remained a resident of Gambier in retirement.
“The name Harry Clor comes up regularly in conversations with alumni about the impact Kenyon has had on their lives,” said President Sean Decatur. “His dedication to rigorous thinking and to the craft of teaching are legendary, and both his work in the classroom and his scholarly writings have touched the lives of many.”
Harry Monroe Clor was born on July 20, 1929, in Springfield, Illinois. He earned his Bachelor of Arts at Lawrence University, where he graduated summa cum laude and won election to Phi Beta Kappa. After two years of service in the U.S. Army, he enrolled in graduate study at the University of Chicago, where he received both his master’s degree and doctorate.
Having previously taught at Chicago and served as a research assistant at the American Foundation for Continuing Education, Clor arrived at Kenyon in 1965 as an assistant professor of political science. He won tenure and promotion to associate professor in 1969 and promotion to full professor in 1972.
Clor had an impact at the College from his earliest days on campus. “Harry arrived when I was a junior at Kenyon,” remembered James Ceaser ’67 H’02, now a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “He was the best teacher I ever had, and it was he who ‘turned’ me in the direction I subsequently pursued. Taking nothing from my other professors, Harry was the figure who changed my life. There is no educator to whom I feel more indebted.”
But Clor’s influence was felt not only by those who followed in his footsteps as educators. Biographer and poet Daniel Mark Epstein ’70 recalled, “With Professor Clor I read the philosophers Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others. His lectures were spellbinding. He held us to the highest standards, and I was encouraged if I could achieve any part of what he hoped for us.”
Clor had been at the College only four years when the first women students arrived at Kenyon. They, too, were soon taken by the Clor mystique. “It is one of the greatest honors of my life to have been Harry’s friend,” declared Judy Hoffman ’73, for whom Clor had served as faculty advisor. “Aside from my parents, Harry was the most influential person in my life.
“Harry was the smartest person I have ever met, yet always humble. He loved learning and being intellectually challenged, although he was almost always the challenger. His great wit made him delightful company; in fact, it is his quick and very clever wit that I will miss most about him. Harry Clor truly enriched my life.”
The feeling was shared by Clor’s colleagues. “Harry was mentor to every teacher who passed through the department, including me,” said Professor Emerita of Political Science Pamela Jensen. “Harry exemplified to me the best in a teaching life. And he did it while advancing scholarship in constitutional law, especially in matters concerning free speech. He blended very high standards — who else teaching ‘Classical Quest for Justice’ could have had students renaming the course, the ‘Classical Quest for a C-’? — and a gentle manner.
“In these raucous, roiling times, I think of Harry as a healing balm. Most importantly, he was a wise and courageous steward of Kenyon’s highest aspirations.”
In 1998, a group of Clor’s former students endowed the Harry M. Clor Distinguished Teaching Professorship in Political Science. “I met Harry on my second day at the College, having drawn the lucky ticket of Harry as my faculty advisor,” remembered Brackett B. Denniston III ’69, chairman of Kenyon’s Board of Trustees and a leader of the funding effort for the Clor chair. “He helped me in so many ways — as an advisor on what to take, on how to approach classes, on how to write, and ultimately on choosing law as a career.
“Harry taught me and many others what lawyers should be. He was the finest teacher of constitutional law I ever saw. And that includes some of the greatest teachers of that discipline ever, people who were my teachers at Harvard Law School and my friends and colleagues after law school. He taught rigorous analysis, clear writing and expression, and civility. He did not raise his voice. He did not shout down others. He did not bully. He taught and listened, and we learned.”
“Harry was the most important influence in my life of any teacher at any level,” said Richard A. Baehr ’69, a healthcare consultant who conceived the idea for the Clor Professorship and saw it through to completion. “He was a personal model for the values he endorsed, including moderation, modesty, clarity, intellectual seriousness and civility. It was an honor to have him as a friend and mentor for many decades after college.
“Harry was one of the most important people, if not the most important, in helping lift Kenyon’s political science department to the position it has maintained for half a century. It is one of the very few in America where honest, thoughtful, serious, respectful discussion and study can occur on the great issues of government and politics.”
Clor retired from the College as Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the end of the 1998-99 academic year. At Commencement in May 1999, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of laws, the citation for which was written and delivered by a fellow professor of political science, Fred Baumann. It read, in part, “You were chief among those who have defended academic freedom from the claims of ideology. … Above all, you have always provided a model of decent, judicious, moderate, fair-minded and principled behavior in the context of a deep understanding of liberal education and the institutions that convey it.”
Looking back on that time, Robert A. Oden Jr., then Kenyon’s president, remarked, “What should a liberal arts curriculum, at its best, include? It should include several courses taught by Professor Harry Clor. Professor Clor is the professor of the liberal arts to me and to thousands of his students. Demanding, probing, transforming student questions into far greater profundity and sophistication, never abandoning his integrity or core convictions, Harry Clor simply was Kenyon for a great many of us. His colleagues and students will miss him. The world of learning will miss him.”
Although Clor’s premier position in Kenyon’s professoriate had been recognized early on in his career, it was publicly affirmed in 1990. In that year, at the Honors Day Convocation, he became only the second senior faculty member at the College to be awarded the Trustee Teaching Excellence Award.
Clor was the author of “On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World” (2008), “Public Morality and Liberal Society: Essays on Decency, Law, and Morality” (1996) and “Obscenity and Public Morality: Censorship in a Liberal Society” (1969). Also to his credit were numerous articles, chapters, essays and reviews as well as participation in panels of a variety of topics. He and his work were celebrated at a 2010 conference at Princeton University, sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, entitled “Public Morality and Liberal Society: The Political Thought of Harry Clor.”
“Harry wrote about moderation and lived it,” Baumann reflected upon his friend’s passing. “In doing so, he showed that it was something quite other than splitting the difference. As I saw in his last days, it took enormous toughness and courage to maintain his gentle, humorous, fair-minded and deeply considerate way of living and thinking in the face of what he knew his situation to be. I admired him to no end and he taught me much about politics and philosophy, but mostly about how to live.”
Clor is survived by his wife of 52 years, Margaret Hyink Clor; two daughters, Katherine “Kate” Clor Portzline and Laura E. Clor; and a granddaughter, Grace Portzline. He was a member of the Ohio Freemasons Lodge 199 in Bladensburg.
“During the 2004 Bush-Kerry presidential election debacle, Harry refused multiple offers to move forward in line,” remembered Liz Keeney, recalling the November day and night when the Gambier polls were among the last in the nation to close as citizens stood in long lines to cast their ballots. “Someone found him a folding chair, which he then moved along. When I saw him, he was smiling delightedly, watching the democratic process he had taught about for so many years play itself out. As Kenyon students deported themselves admirably, Harry was in the middle of it, loving every moment.”
Calling hours will be Thursday, Aug. 30, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Lasater Funeral Home on Upper Gilchrist Road in Mount Vernon. A brief reception will follow. A memorial gathering will be held on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. in the Gund Commons Ballroom at Kenyon College. Memorial contributions may be made to Capital City Hospice (614-441-9300).