May 01, 2010

Higher ed exemplars inspire delegates

Source: RA 2010
Caption: Charles Clarke, Iris DeLutro

A longtime and beloved unionist in the CUNY system, and a professor known as a calming voice of reason to colleagues and administrators alike, were honored Friday as NYSUT's Higher Education Members of the Year.

Charles Clarke is chair of the psychology department and former president of the Faculty Association of Monroe Community College. Colleagues know him as the person to turn to for a humorous but insightful solution to a problem, and he is a sought-after speaker in his areas of expertise: Holocaust studies, human rights and campus violence.

The son and grandson of New York City trade unionists, Clarke said his background as a third-generation Irish-American helped shape his belief in social justice — a belief that has been strengthened by his decades of activism with NYSUT.

"I was born into, and nurtured with, an attitude of hospitality toward the marginalized," he said. "NYSUT and all of its locals speak truth to power."

Clarke also drew laughter by invoking the memory of his Roman Catholic parochial education and a nun's unsuccessful efforts to quell his diplomatic but argumentative nature as an elementary student.

Iris DeLutro, a senior counselor at the City University of New York, has been a vivacious and joyous presence in the Professional Staff Congress for nearly 20 years. She now serves as vice president for cross-campus units, and has made it her special mission to help paraprofessionals gain the education they need to become teachers. Untold numbers of teachers in the New York City schools can trace their career paths to programs at CUNY that DeLutro helped design, and which provide special outreach to these often nontraditional students.

DeLutro drew warm laughter when she said that Clarke's humorous acceptance remarks were a tough act to follow. She then more than held her own as she recalled her early career as a dancer, and her decision to swap her dancing shoes for a degree from Queens College once she realized her knees demanded she change direction.

She has never looked back, and today she is still taking on issues of injustice. Among her goals: To see an anti-bullying law passed that would address the often brutal tactics of supervisors toward their subordinates in academic settings.

She invoked a lesson from her mother, Ada, who was in the audience: "If you want to make a difference, you have to be at the table. You have to speak for those who can't."

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