Spotlight on Cliff Bennett



The challenge is great and the responsibility looms large. 

Taking the step from from a tenured faculty member to an administrator will test perseverance and leadership.  You only need to spend a few seconds talking with Dr. Clifford Bennett, though, to hear those traits echo with every word.

“It was an opportunity for me to apply almost three decades of higher education experience to running the largest department [at the College of Education and Human Services] and one of the largest [at Cleveland State University],” said Bennett, recalling his 14-year run as Chair of the Teacher Education Department at Cleveland State.  “When I was at [the University of Virginia], it was considered the premier institution for teacher education in the U.S.  My goal was to lead Cleveland State in that direction.”

Bennett’s three-plus terms as chair ended last June when Dr. Tachelle Banks stepped into the role, but he left an indelible mark on the department.

“When I assumed the chairmanship of the department in July 2000, there were just a few tenured faculty in the department," said Bennett, leaning forward with emphasis in the chair of his third-floor Julka Hall office.  “Now, every faculty member in the department, minus one, has earned tenure.”

Earning tenure is the crown jewel for a professor.  It signifies the elite and provides the stability of a permanent job.

Guiding faculty to that level is no easy task, but Bennett embraced the challenge in front of him.

“Selecting faculty is the most important decision a department can make,” noted Bennett.  “Almost 85 percent of the [teacher education] faculty now are people hired when I served as chairperson."  Being able to mentor and guide is key.  I worked to ensure their research was aimed in the right direction, they maintained the ability to present at national and international conferences, and guided them through the probationary period.”

Bennett always had a full plate as chair, overseeing 35-45 part-time faculty each semester in addition to 30 tenured faculty.  If that wasn’t enough, Bennett collaborated with Dr. Michele Bowman to supervise almost 30 English as a Second Language faculty.

Prior to arriving at Cleveland State, Bennett was an associate professor at the University of Virginia and served as program coordinator for social studies. He began his career as a public school teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shaker Heights City Schools. 

Bennett, a Cleveland native and Glenville High School graduate, earned his doctoral degree from The Pennsylvania State University.  He was awarded the Distinguished Leadership and Service Award in 2007, which is presented to an alumnus who has distinguished themselves in their chosen profession and demonstrated leadership and service within their career and/or the community.

Additionally, Bennett earned his master’s degree in history and education from John Carroll University and his bachelor’s degree in political science from Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.

Bennett is presently a professor in the teacher education department at Cleveland State.  As an educator, leader and mentor, he relishes the time he spent as chair.

“Chair is an arduous position, but that person sets the climate for the department,” said Bennett. 

“I’m grateful for the support I’ve had through the years from Dean’s [James] McLoughlin, [Richard] Hurwitz, [Thomas] Frew and [Sajit] Zachariah.  I can say without a question or doubt, I lived the good life as department chair – administratively, happily and productively.”


Favorite movie: Fury

Favorite junk food: French fries

Favorite vacation spot: Italy

Favorite song: Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"

One thing you don’t know about me is… “I was the first African American bat boy for the Cleveland Indians during my junior and senior years in high school.  I even got to serve as bat boy for the 1963 All-Star Game at the old Cleveland Stadium.”