UMKC Professor Clancy Martin Receives National Recognition and Accolades

Martin was featured on CBS Sunday Morning, was a Kirkus nonfiction finalist and received the University of Missouri System Thomas Jefferson Award
Clancy Martin sits facing CBS reporter Susan Spencer with recording equipment above them and to the right side

Clancy Martin, Ph.D, is a well-known professor of philosophy at UMKC. His latest book: “How Not to Kill Yourself” was a 2023 Kirkus Prize nonfiction finalist.

Martin has talked about his personal story about suicide on "CBS Sunday Morning," NPR "Fresh Air" and in the New York Times and appeared at the Kansas City Public Library.

In April 2024, he was awarded the University of Missouri System Thomas Jefferson Award. Martin joins a distinguished group of award recipients who have demonstrated clear excellence and distinction in teaching, research, writing, creative activities and service to the university and humankind.

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, Professor Clancy Martin, UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, UMKC Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Lundgren
University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, Professor Clancy Martin, UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, UMKC Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Jennifer Lundgren | Photo by Brandon Parigo

We wanted to get to know this popular professor a little better. Here are seven fun facts about Clancy Martin:

Philosophy was not his first major choice.

“I was a chemistry major, and I wanted to go to medical school,” Martin said. But how did he end up teaching philosophy instead of going to medical school? Like many students who end up on a new career path, he took a required elective.

“I didn't even know what philosophy was,” he said. “Then I just had this amazing professor and read a couple of philosophers in that class. I didn't realize that people thought and wrote like this. It made me completely crazy about philosophy.”

He was on the fence about going to graduate school.

When Martin wasn’t sure whether to continue to pursue medical school or a graduate degree in philosophy, he turned to his father.

“Normally, to be frank, he didn't give the best advice and I normally didn't listen,” Martin said. “But I called him and asked him ‘Should I go to medical school or graduate school in philosophy?’ He said ‘Son, all of my friends who are doctors, they complain about how they work all the time and have to deal with insurance. They have no home life. All of my friends who are professors, none of them are rich, but they're all really happy. So, I think you should go to graduate school in philosophy,’ and for once, I listened.”

Clancy Martin walks on campus between teaching classes

He used to be in the jewelry business.

After Martin had his first child (bonus fun fact: she is currently getting her Ph.D. at her dad’s alma mater, University of Texas-Austin, but not in philosophy), he dropped out of school for a while. He had brothers in the jewelry business and decided to give working with them a try.

“I thought, maybe I should just make a lot of money rather than be a professor, and I did that for six or seven years,” he said. “I was miserable, and whenever I would get really down, I'd drive to a college campus, just to walk around the campus and see the students. It would make me remember that life was worth living, until eventually I knew I had to get up and go back to graduate school. I had to become a professor because it's just where my heart was.”

He's written for many popular publications, including the New York Times and Elle.

When asked how he started writing for such a large gamut of publications, Martin looked to his heroes, the 19th- and the 20th-century existentialist philosophers.

“Their driving idea is that philosophy should always be relevant to as many people as possible,” he said. “Basically, it should be relevant to the ordinary person on the street. And if we can't reach that person and speak to that person, then we're just not doing philosophy properly. I very strongly believe that.”

His favorite experience with his writing (so far) has been his latest book, “How Not to Kill Yourself.”

He says it’s because it was the hardest to write. It took him about five years.

“It was the most serious self-interrogation that I've done in any of my work,” Martin said. “I think that, as a philosopher, part of your job is to try to go as deeply as you can and ask the questions about the meaning of life. This is when I have done my most thorough attempt yet to investigate that question. It had a life affirming quality to it.”

Clancy Martin writes on the whiteboard while teaching a class; CBS cameras and reporters are around him

His favorite part of Kansas City is Midtown.

“I love being able to walk to school,” Martin said. “I love the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I love that Kansas City has everything you want in a big city, but it still feels like a normal size. You never feel overwhelmed, like you can in a lot of big cities. This is just a place that feels right to me. I've had other job offers since I've been here, and I've never been tempted to leave because I love the city, UMKC and our students.”

He wants the student body to know support is available across the UMKC campus.

“If they are having feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, stress or fear, anything like this, reach out, not just to me, but all the faculty and staff at UMKC,” Martin said. “I would like our students to know that we are here for them as human beings and as people to help them in every way that we can. We’re not just an educational resource for them. We're a human resource for them. After they graduate, too. I always tell my students ‘Hey, once you’ve had me as a professor, you're stuck with me for life now. Anytime you need me, send me an email and I'll be there for you.’ And I know that's not just true of me, that's true of all of my colleagues who are faculty at UMKC. This is how we run things at UMKC, and this is one of the best things about our university.”

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