Alumni Morton Bahr, President Emeritus of Communications Workers of America, and Bob Herbert, Journalist, Recognized
By Hope Ferguson, senior writer
February 22, 2012
The Presidential Medal of Honor and the Citizen Laureate awards have been bestowed on two prominent SUNY Empire State College alumni. Morton Bahr, president emeritus of the Communications Workers of America, (in photo at right with President Alan Davis), received the Citizen Laureate award, and while Bob Herbert, (in photo at left with President Alan Davis), journalist and distinguished senior fellow at Demos, and a contributing editor with American Prospect magazine, became the first recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor during the college’s 40th Anniversary Gala in New York City on Oct. 20.
“I was very proud to make the presentations of the Presidential Medal of Honor and Citizen Laureate award to these two distinguished alumni,” said President Alan Davis. “We wanted to recognize Morton Bahr for his outstanding contribution to economic justice, workplace democracy, elderly housing and lifelong learning.
We also wanted to recognize Bob Herbert for his outstanding career in journalism, his unwavering commitment to social justice and for applying his Empire State College experience to uplift working people – the poor and others who are struggling in our society.
This is a great honor,” said Herbert in his acceptance speech. “I want you to know how much the degree from Empire State College has meant to me. I had had success in the newspaper business, but I didn’t have a college degree. Even though I had studied various places, my work at Empire State College helped make my thinking much more rigorous; much better. It informed my journalism and my life.
Morton Bahr earned his Bachelor of Science degree in labor studies at the college’s Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies in 1983. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the college in 1995.
Bahr was one of the first students in the labor program. At the time, he served as vice president for the largest district in the CWA, covering New York, New Jersey and six Northeastern states. Bahr said during his acceptance speech that although the program was not designed for labor leaders at his level, his enrollment served to spur other union leaders and members to return to school. “Everybody knew me, knew the job I held, knew how busy I was, and knew the responsibilities I had. If I could go to school, then they couldn’t find a reason to say ‘no’.
Bahr, who was president of the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America, led the union between 1985 until his retirement in 2005. He is recognized as a leading voice of the labor movement, both in the U.S. and internationally. His tenure at the union’s helm saw a major shift in the nature of the telecommunications industry in the face of rapidly changing technology.
Known for transforming CWA into an education-driven union, he negotiated a number of educational benefits with the management of various companies to enable CWA members to upgrade their skills by earning college degrees in order to compete in the changing workforce.
One of those educational partnerships was with SUNY Empire State College. In 2001, Bahr worked with SUNY Empire State College to establish a scholarship program in his name for union members and their families to earn college degrees. In addition, from 1996 to 1998, Bahr chaired the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners, a national panel that conducted a two-year study of adult learning in America, and focused the country’s attention on the need for educational opportunities for frontline workers. In 2007, Bahr became president of the Elderly Housing Development Corp., a successful government-union partnership that provides housing for seniors at or below the poverty level, giving them dignity in their retirement years.
Bob Herbert graduated from the Metropolitan Center of the college in 1988. He also was awarded an honorary degree from the State University of New York in 1995.
In 1993, Herbert became an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, the first African-American to become a regular columnist at that newspaper. His column covered politics, urban affairs and social trends two times a week. Recently, he left that post to join Demos, a multi-issue national organization that combines research, policy development and advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze change. Founded in 2000 and headquartered in New York City, Demos works with advocates and policymakers around the country.
Herbert’s career began in 1970 as a reporter, then night city editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. Beginning in 1976, he was a general assignment reporter, national correspondent, consumer affairs editor, city hall bureau chief and night city editor at The Daily News. Herbert has won numerous awards for his work, and is the author of a book,
“Promises Betrayed: Waking Up from the American Dream”(Times Books, 2005). He is currently at work on another book, “Wounded Colossus.
The college has several awards, which are bestowed occasionally, including the Heritage award, Citizen Laureate award, Distinguished Leadership in Adult Learning and Distinguished Alumni awards, in addition to the Presidential Medal.
The highest award the college bestows, the Presidential Medal recognizes outstanding career achievement, scholarly excellence, leadership in the professions, noteworthy public service or humanitarian endeavors.