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Vol 39  No 15
June 7, 2007


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Thursday, May 24, 10 a.m.

Oration honouring Jack Clark


Chancellor John Crosbie with Dr. Jack Clark

John Stuart Mill held (erroneously, it should be noted) that the decline of China at the end of what we call the Middle Ages was attributable to a descent into conservatism on the part of the governing classes. The same view is held by Gavin Menzies, whose somewhat speculative book, 1421, about the global circumnavigations of the great Chinese admiral, Zheng He, contends that, when the cautious mandarins took power back from the eunuchs (of which Zheng He was one), they halted an extraordinary period in maritime venturing that the Europeans took more than a century to imitate. Where does this wander? How does this fit with Jack Clark? Eunuch, we are assured, he is not but he does have the dynamism attributed to that great admiral, a dynamism that involves a resistance to conservatism allied with a courage to venture into the unknown. And certainly it was an unknown he ventured into when he undertook the presidency of C-CORE, for the corporation had been rudderless for two years and its revenues were shrinking fast. Jack was, in fact, told by a member of the search committee, “You have six months to turn her around, otherwise we are closing her down.” That is, by all standards, a very short trial period and any sensible person would have said no and gone back to Calgary. And, by those same standards, Jack Clark is not a sensible person for he moved his life, his wife and two of his children to Newfoundland in 1984.

In this time of changing leadership – everywhere – it is worth reflecting on what constitutes good leadership. Let us take advice from the leader most recently departed, Tony Blair, who said the skill lies in “saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” This was advice Mr. Blair gave in 1994 and patently failed to take when, less than a decade later, he followed George Bush into Iraq. Jack Clark took something of an opposite tack: he rarely failed to say yes – to a good idea, frequently a good idea he had himself. Now if this meant telling a promising recruit to C-CORE that he would be guaranteed a faculty position at Memorial, Jack did it. If deans (that recruit now one of them), vice- presidents and Human Resources’ people came flailing regulations and policies to encourage him to say no, he stood his ground and C-CORE and the university grew not just in numbers but in value. Better still is the account of his pursuit of work with the European Space Agency. He decided C-CORE would answer the agency’s call for a research partnership proposal – he decided this four days before submissions were due. No minor irritants like a lack of time or the sheer ludicrousness of pursuing space work in Newfoundland would stop Jack. The proposal was developed and, of the 50 proposals submitted, C-CORE’s for the industrial use of space was the one accepted. It has meant a long and lucrative financial arrangement with the European Space Agency. An earlier example of Jack’s forward-thinking may be drawn from his response to funding from the Atlantic Accord. C-CORE requested $5 million but Jack determined that that money would only be accepted if C-CORE could find an additional $12.5 million from other sources. Why? Because Jack felt it essential that C-CORE develop its own sources of funding and not merely live off the government. With Jack Clark there was never an easy route and he had a firm eye on the future, not just on the immediate present.

But, Chancellor, it is essential to see beyond the Jack Clark who is the innovative corporate leader and to see the effect of the corporation he has created. C-CORE has become the breeding ground for many of our student engineers as well as many of the province’s newest companies; has brought the university $8 million each year, a geotechnical centrifuge and established our international reputation as a centre of excellence for harsh environment research. For almost a thousand of our students in engineering, science and business, C-CORE has provided work-term experience that has later shaped their opportunities for permanent employment on the leading edge of technology. As vice-president of NSERC he enhanced this by encouraging the implementation of programs that brought together industry and academia to address the research and development challenges of Canadian industry. At a provincial level, it could be argued that much of the local work done in relation to the offshore oil industry would not have happened without the groundwork done by Jack Clark at C-CORE.

This was all carried out while he maintained a substantial academic profile as professor of engineering, co-author of some 150 papers and editor of Canadian Geotechnical Journal. Clearly very highly regarded in his own profession, he holds, from Canadian organizations, the Professional Engineers’ Gold Medal, the Geotechnical Society’s Legget Award, the Engineering Institute’s Julian C. Smith Medal as well as the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute’s Terzaghi Fellowship. Chancellor, I present to you for the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, the man who has established this university’s research reputation in industrial engineering and in development of the province’s offshore oil industry, Jack Clark.

Shane O’Dea
Public orator

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