Students with penchants for intellectual property law, digital film editing, psychoanalysis or the Alfred Hitchcock film “Psycho” have likely happened upon Michael Clark’s name in the Portland State University course catalog. But on the first day of class, it may be Sarah Marcus, Trevor Fife or a television program director who greets them on a different campus.
Clark is the gateway to many programs otherwise inaccessible to PSU students, thanks, in part, to his self-acknowledged eccentricity.
“The only thing I fear is kryptonite,” he said, reenacting a recent dinner conversation. “Nobody got it – it was a joke between me and myself. But everybody nodded like, ‘Mike, that was the most normal thing to say.'”
Clark boasts a doctorate in comparative literature, a JD in law & art, a master’s in philosophy of art and has instructed such varied courses as advanced psychoanalytic theory. “I don’t know what to call it … curiosity?” he said in defense of his tangential career-course. “Don’t call it dabbling. That would sound as if I know just a little bit about a lot of things, and I’m actually not a bad lawyer.”
Grant Peterson, a PSU English major, stood near Clark’s door, the only office to have a line of waiting visitors. “It’s surprising to meet someone so well-versed in so many different fields,” Peterson said, “and the ability to quote so many Clint Eastwood films.”
“I am sincerely interested in a lot of things, and I hope I’m not a dilettante in any of them,” Clark said. “For example, with film, I’m fascinated with why we project our desires onto the screen. Why does film affect us so profoundly?”
Clark’s offerings include Hitchcock films, literary criticism, critical approaches to film and law for artists and writers, but Northwest Film Center courses like digital video and production management list him as well. “They need an instructor of record,” he said. “It’s a logistical thing.”
Arts and letters major Nicki Toma was referred to Clark by the PSU Career Center, FOX/UPN affiliate KPTV and the English department to develop a curriculum for internship credit.
“Being an intern, you’re pretty much a gofer. I quit because the hours were just killing me and I wasn’t learning anything,” Toma said, but she doesn’t fault Clark for her negative experience at Channel 12. “I made copies of tapes, unloaded and organized blanks, and ran teleprompter.”
PSU’s Center for Excellence in Writing Web site cites credentials which Clark declined to mention. During 1995-96, he taught at the University of Jordan in Amman, a period that included U.S. State Department-supported lectures in Syria and Egypt.
He was a member of the White House staff during the Carter Administration and has taught at the University of Oregon, the University of Michigan and Iowa State University. Other specialized courses on his roster have included literature and the First Amendment and legal writing. His most recent work focuses on First Amendment issues and the Internet.