Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight – Barry Kaplan (BA ’71, MA ’73, PhD ’75) Endows Fund to Honor Professor Clifton Yearley

Honor Professor Clifton Yearley, headshot in black and white.

Alumnus Barry Kaplan has endowed a fund in memory of his favorite UB professor, Clifton Yearly (1925-1995). Professor Clifton Yearly, Sonny to his friends, was a professor in the Department of History from 1966 until his retirement in 1992. During his time at UB, Yearley had an impact on a great number of students not only as a professor, but also as the Director of Graduate Studies and the Head of the Department (1973-1979). His area of research and teaching concentration was the interaction of socio-political and economic forces during the 18th and 19th centuries in the urban-industrial North of the United States. Yearley wrote 3 books, the most well-known of which was, The Money Machines: The Breakdown and Reform of Governmental and Party Finance in the North, 1860-1920.

Alumnus Barry Kaplan, headshot with grey backdrop.

During a conversation in September, Kaplan fondly remembered his time at UB and learning from Yearley during both his undergraduate and graduate years. Kaplan described Yearley as a “incredible and dynamic lecturer,” a tough professor, and as someone he admired and looked up to. Kaplan recalled Yearley as a professor who asked tough and unexpected questions. For example, during Kaplan’s comprehensive exams, Yearley posed the question, “History is a series of responses to intelligently posed questions, please discuss.” On another occasion as an undergraduate, Kaplan and his classmates walked into Yearley’s class to a pop quiz about a lengthy reading which began with the question, “Who is the author of this book and why is he qualified to write it?”

Book cover of Money Machines by Clifton Yearley, green with title "The Money Machines".

During our conversation Kaplan reflected on the impact Yearley had on his education and later career. Yearley helped Kaplan learn the skills to succeed not only in academia, but also outside of it. Kaplan learned skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, and leadership, skills that were transferable to his careers in the computer industry, public relations, and political consultancy, among others. Undoubtedly Yearley had a great impact on the lives of Kaplan and other UB students.

Many of our alumni are familiar with Yearley’s work at and contributions to UB but may not know much about his life outside of the university. Prior to his career at UB, Yearley was educated at Johns Hopkins University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. Yearley later returned to Johns Hopkins to teach and subsequently took up posts at the University of Delaware and the University of Florida before settling into a career at UB.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Yearley also had an active military career both before and during his time at UB. Yearley served in the US Marine Corps and saw active duty during both World War II and the Korean War. During his deployment in Korea, Yearley released 20 Chinese prisoners, an action which led to him being court martialed. Yearley would later receive the Navy Cross and Silver Star in 1980s in recognition of his service in the armed forces. After active duty Yearley continued his association with the navy through a 30-year career in the naval intelligence community. He retired after 30 years with the rank of Navy commander and Marine Lieutenant Colonel.

When asked why he wanted to endow a fund in honor of Yearley, Kaplan explained that he wanted Yearley to be remembered as he was both an extraordinary teacher and an extraordinary person. Kaplan described Yearley as a superb scholar and researcher, a leader, a man of action―the kind of man who hunts a bear with a bow and arrow―and simply as someone he admired. Kaplan wants Yearley’s memory and his name to live on and hopes that other former students of Yearley’s feel the same and will contribute to the fund allowing it to grow and benefit future students in the Department of History. Kaplan’s wish is that this fund continues to grow and provides students who may not have otherwise gone to graduate school the opportunity to do so because of Prof. Clifton Yearley. The funds from the Yearly award will be awarded to graduate students with high academic merit and who have a financial need.

If you would like to contribute to the Yearley Memorial Fund, please visit our website.