Noted & Quoted

Distinguished Author, Scientist Win Top Awards

Colum McCann
Colum McCann

Noted CUNY literary and science faculty members have received major honors in their fields. Hunter College Distinguished Lecturer Colum McCann has won the 2009 National Book Award in Fiction for his best-selling novel Let the Great World Spin.

Joseph L. Birman, Distinguished Professor of Physics at City College and cum laude alumnus of the class of 1947, is one of three recipients of the American Physical Society’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for 2010.

“As fiction writers and people who believe in the word, we have to enter the anonymous corners of human experience to make that little corner right,” McCann said in accepting America’s top literary award for his tale of 1970s New York City told through characters whose lives are touched by famed tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his memorable 1974 high-wire act between the World Trade Center towers.

Joseph Birman Joseph L. Birman

Dublin-born McCann’s fiction has been published in 30 languages. In 2009, he also was awarded top literary honors by Ireland and France. At Hunter, he teaches fiction in the college’s MFA program.

Next month in Washington, professor Birman is to receive the Sakharov Prize, named for the Russian theoretical physicist who became a dissident and received the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize. For about 35 years Birman, a grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, has advocated for the rights of repressed scientists — first in the former Soviet Union and later in China, Cuba, Iraq, Iran and the United States. He is currently working to help Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kumar Alaei, brothers who are medical doctors who have been imprisoned by Iran for trying to treat AIDS patients in rural areas. His goal has been to put “pressure, noise and a spotlight” on governments that repress scientists. Among scientists he has helped who have become independent research scholars are Lehman College Distinguished Professor of Physics Eugene Chudnovsky and professor emeritus Andrei Weissman of The College of Staten Island.

Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009

Roy DeCarava

Roy DeCarava was an internationally renowned photographer best known for his black-and-white images of daily life in Harlem and candid shots of jazz giants. His work is in the collections of many of the country’s major art institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2006, he received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award the U.S. government gives to an artist.

For 34 years, DeCarava was a professor at Hunter College and taught until his death in October at 89.

“Roy DeCarava was devoted to a traditional form of photography — the silver print,” says Sanford Wurmfeld, retired chair of the Department of Art at Hunter who still teaches at the college. “Within the limitations which this medium offered, he was able to create a whole world in his work — as he was justly famous for finding incredible subtleties in the dark areas of his prints.”

DeCarava studied painting and architecture at the Cooper Union School of Art and the George Washington Carver Art School before turning to photography in the 1940s. In 1952, he became the first black photographer to win a Guggenheim Fellowship.

According to colleagues, DeCarava was kind and sensitive to his students, gently questioning them to “urge them on to self-discovery,” says Wurmfeld. “He well understood that posing the right questions could open up worlds of opportunities for his students.”

Shaw, Sapienza Appointed to Key Budget Positions

The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has appointed Marc V. Shaw Interim Senior Vice Chancellor for Budget, Finance and Financial Policy. His appointment follows the untimely death of Vice Chancellor for Budget and Finance Ernesto Malave on Nov. 22, 2009, at age 51. Shaw, who has served as Trustee since 2002, has more than two decades of senior management experience in state and municipal government. He served as First Deputy Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Operations to Mayor Bloomberg, as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as Budget Director and Commissioner for the Department of Finance under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and as senior staff member to the City Council Finance Committee and the State Senate.

The Executive Committee has also appointed Matthew Sapienza as Associate Vice Chancellor for Budget, Finance and Financial Policy. Sapienza has provided more than 21 years of distinguished public service in senior level budget and finance administration, including five years as University Budget Director beginning in October 2004, 11 years at the New York City Board of Education, including as Deputy Budget Director for the public schools system, and five years as a Senior Budget Analyst for The New York City Fire Department. “Mr. Malave’s passing has left a large and unexpected void in the University’s administration,” said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. “Fortunately, in Marc Shaw and Matt Sapienza, the University has experienced public servants who are uniquely qualified to step into the breach under these challenging circumstances.” A national search will be conducted for a permanent appointment to the Senior Vice Chancellor position.

New Student Trustee Brings Experience Plus Fresh Ideas

Cory Provost Cory Provost

Cory Provost, a Brooklyn College graduate student active in student and community affairs since high school, has been elected the 25th chairperson of the University Student Senate — giving him a seat and a vote on the CUNY Board of Trustees.

Provost, who earned his B.A. at Brooklyn College, is pursuing a master’s degree in urban policy and administration; he plans to seek a doctorate in political science with an eye toward teaching. His leadership positions have included the presidencies of Brooklyn College’s NAACP and Mentoring Alliance. Currently he is president of the college’s Graduate Student Organization.

In his new leadership posts, Provost said he is most concerned with “making sure CUNY remains as affordable as possible for students,” and with “the financial stability of the University as we go through the next couple of years of economic downturn.” He added, “I truly believe CUNY has set an example that should be replicated. CUNY offers students in difficult positions many, many opportunities to progress.” He plans to improve University Student Senate communications with the help of a new website and a “marketing strategy” in order to make it easier to “develop conversations” about issues of concern to students.

As an undergraduate, Provost helped to organize Brooklyn College’s “Thanks-giving Feed the Homeless,” and spent time in New Orleans helping rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

He has been active in several communities through his work with New York State legislators, and also is concerned about educating young fathers on their importance to families and to the future success of their children.