ST. PETERSBURG — Two bachelor's degrees, divinity school and a Ph.D. studying class, religion and culture taught Clark Bouwman a lot about human nature.
A chance to shape the sociology curriculum of a new college gave him a chance to put that knowledge to work. Dr. Bouwman, a professor and dean at Florida Presbyterian College from its first classes in 1960 until his retirement 23 years later, taught students to dig deeply and challenge assumptions.
As dean of academic services and director of international education at Eckerd College (the school's name since 1972), he started a robust overseas program. As as private citizen and a pacifist, he worked to end segregation, unequal labor conditions and the Vietnam War.
Dr. Bouwman, the last remaining member of Eckerd's founding faculty to finish out a career at the college, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure. He was 92.
"Status is involved in everything we strive for," Dr. Bouwman told a lecture audience 50 years ago. "Symbols showing (status) can range from skulls on a pole to two cars in a garage."
He spoke in a resonant, slightly reedy voice, one that seldom faltered or raced.
"We might have classes of 10 to 12," said Meredith McGuire, a former student and a member of FPC's first graduating class. "It felt like a conversation, but there was a point behind every conversation."
Always quietly determined, Dr. Bouwman in the early 1960s planned the first program for students to study abroad, a trip to Mexico. He then set up trips to London and established a long-term residence there for groups of students. The college's founding dean called Dr. Bouwman a "one-man international force."
"He really launched the overseas program," said Lloyd Chapin, the college's retired dean of faculty. "He got it going and made it flourish." The college appointed him to a series of administrative roles, including director of international education and off-campus study.
Dr. Bouwman was also a force as a private citizen. In 1961, his letter prompted the Pinellas County Commission, by a 4-1 vote, to remove signs from public buildings that designated water fountains or restrooms as "white" or "colored."
In 1968, he protested with striking sanitation workers and spent the night in jail.
In 1977, as dean of special programs, he was the architect behind Eckerd's Program for Experienced Learners, which allowed older students to earn college degrees while working, and receive course credit for knowledge acquired outside the classroom. The off-campus classroom model with nontenured faculty was controversial, and brought flak to its point man.
PEL has since graduated 5,000 older students.
Dr. Bouwman was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. Between bachelor's degrees at Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, he served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. He earned a doctorate at the New School for Social Research, and was 41 when he came to Florida Presbyterian from Illinois Wesleyan University.
At his request, Dr. Bouwman spent his final year at Eckerd in front of a classroom again, teaching sociology. A year after retiring in 1983, he and his wife, Pat, went to Nicaragua with a peace organization.
Other retirement activities, he wrote in 1996, included "photography, bad golf, reading, watching trashy TV, yard work, eating and dieting alternately, (and) left-wing politicizing."
That politicizing diminished after Pat, his wife of 55 years, died in 1998. Dr. Bouwman, who was affected by hearing loss for the last dozen years, continued to read in the solar-heated house he built on waterfront property purchased from the college.
McGuire, now a sociology and anthropology professor at Trinity University and the author of several books, said her former mentor has continued to influence her work — especially on the "peace and social justice stuff."
"He just kept raising the question very quietly, almost always in one-on-one conversations. 'Why is it that things are this way? I don't have to accept that this is the way things are going to be. Let me look underneath this.'
"It is the main point I try to make with my students."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.