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Thomas Clifford

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In 1990, the president of the University of North Dakota, Thomas Clifford, took on the additional task of serving as Interim Chancellor of the newly formed North Dakota University System. After what must have been a busy eight months, Clifford stepped down on this date in 1991. For many, the work involved in managing both major academic bodies would have been overwhelming, but for Clifford, the fast pace was par for the course.

Born in 1921 in the small town of Langdon in the north-east corner of North Dakota, Thomas J. Clifford was a go-getter. Attending the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Commerce in 1942. Following the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Marines. Enlisting as a private, he worked his way up to the rank of major, earning a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

After the war, Clifford returned to his alma mater to teach in UND’s accounting department. By 1948 he had earned another degree, this time in Law, had been promoted to full professor and named head of the accounting department.

In 1950, at the age of 29, Clifford was appointed dean of the College of Commerce, in the process becoming the youngest dean in the University’s history. After a brief stint at Stanford, Clifford returned to North Dakota to become UND’s vice president for finance.

The next big step came in 1971, when he was named president of the university. From the start, he labored to expand the school he had inherited, adding new facilities for nursing, law, athletics, housing, and engineering. Many departments, such as the School for Aerospace Science, were expanded and developed into successful, internationally-known programs. Furthermore, under Clifford’s leadership, the student population increased from under 8,400 in 1971 to over 12,000 in 1992. Grants and contracts grew six-fold, and the University’s annual budget rose from $24 million to $174 million.

Clifford finally retired from UND in 1992. However, North Dakota did not forget the lifetime of dedication and hard work. Ten years after Clifford’s retirement, Governor John Hoeven awarded UND’s former president with the highest civilian honor of the state of North Dakota, the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award.

Dakota Datebook by Lane Sunwall

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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