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Alum Finds His Passion in Organizing for Change

March 3, 2017

By Adam Beyer

“You get to make a difference every day,” said Matthew Clark MPP’15. “That’s what I love about organizing. You’re right there on the ground with people just as passionate as you are working to move North Carolina and the nation forward.”

Clark has been a part of several campaigns for progressive issues.

At Duke, he was a founding member of Duke Teaching First, a group that helped organize Trinity College’s non-tenure track teaching faculty into a union. Clark also helped lay the groundwork for the ongoing graduate student unionization effort.

His interest in working conditions at colleges started while he was a teaching associate in philosophy at Coastal Carolina University. He had discovered philosophy while an undergraduate at Roanoke College and went on to receive a master’s degree in the subject from Miami University in Ohio.

“It really is true that studying philosophy and thinking critically about very deep issues enhances your experience of the world and allows you to encounter the world in different ways,” Clark said.

During his four years at Coastal, he taught nearly 50 courses and more than a thousand students. Many other contingent faculty he interacted with reported feeling overworked and underpaid, Clark said. In response, Clark helped launch the Coastal Contingent Faculty Coalition, which worked with administrators to improve teaching conditions for faculty and learning conditions for students.

In 2013, Clark came to Duke with the hopes of developing the skills to continue working on the contingent faculty issue in higher education.

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  • Matthew Clark graduates from Sanford, pictured with his parents

    Clark's Sanford experience

    While a student at Sanford, Matthew Clark MPP'15 said he appreciated classes with Bob Korstad and Mac McCorkle. He is pictured here with his parents on graduation day. 

“I like to stir things up and to help people think critically about these critical problems,” he said.

While a student at Sanford, Clark took a class on the History of Poverty and Inequality in North Carolina with Professor Bob Korstad. Korstad connected him with people working to organize non-tenured faculty at Duke.

Clark also said he was significantly influenced by a seminar with Mac McCorkle on the history of politics in North Carolina. And he benefited from taking courses outside of Sanford, including a course on organizing and theology with Luke Bretherton at Duke Divinity School.

For his summer internship, he continued to work on issues in academic labor, this time at North Carolina State University. He said he appreciated the chance to see how financial and political constraints make it difficult for public institutions to address challenges in resource management. Clark hopes his efforts generated new ideas for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NCSU.

Most recently, the Wilmington, N.C.-native worked as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton and the coordinated Democratic campaign in Wake County, N.C. He recruited volunteers, registered voters, made phone calls, and knocked on doors in support of the Democratic ticket.

His work did not end immediately after the election, however.Organizing work

Although Clinton lost North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s victory was narrow enough that a recount might have been needed. Clark traversed North Carolina, going to rural areas in Pender, Sampson and Columbus Counties, to help ensure that provisional votes were counted properly.

Clark lives in Durham and remains active in addressing community issues. Working with the People’s Alliance, he is advocating for increased support for Durham Technical Community College, in order to help develop a more robust workforce development system in Durham.

“It breaks my heart that in Durham you have an institution like Duke that’s so wealthy and then another like Durham Tech that clearly lacks resources,” he said. “Students who need the most get the least, and students that need the least get the most.”