Arnold Cantor, the first executive director of the Professional Staff Congress, passed away on December 22. Cantor, who served as executive director from the union’s founding until 1995, was a major force in the life of the PSC. “The PSC officers and staff mourn the passing of Dr. Arnold Cantor and offer our condolences to his friends and family,” said Steve London, PSC first vice president.
“He shaped the union,” said Irwin Yellowitz, a labor historian and professor emeritus of history at City College. Yellowitz worked closely with Cantor for 22 years, during Yellowitz’s terms as PSC treasurer and vice president for senior colleges. Cantor “was the chief negotiator for contract bargaining sessions,” Yellowitz recalled. “He was really involved in negotiating every line in the contract.”
Cantor was instrumental in union gains such as securing across-the-board raises for faculty and staff after the 1970s fiscal crisis, and obtaining the job security protections for Higher Education Officers spelled out in article 13.3b of the PSC/CUNY contract. Under Cantor, the union established staff positions for in-house legal counsel, a full-time editor of Clarion and a pensions advisor.
“Dr. Cantor made a major contribution to academic trade unionism in the 25 years we served together,” past PSC president Irwin Polishook wrote in an online memorial (see tinyurl.com/arnold-cantor). “There are many individuals who will remember how he helped them in their professional lives.”
Clarissa Gilbert Weiss, who served as the PSC’s director for pensions and welfare benefits during Cantor’s tenure, remembers him as a “ferocious” advocate for PSC faculty, a leader who recognized the professionalism of CUNY’s HEOs and CLTs and a believer in promoting women within the PSC staff.
Both Cantor and his wife Meriam were avid musicians. She was a violist for the Rochester Philharmonic; before coming to the PSC, Arnold was a secondary-school music teacher who played the clarinet. He performed at union events, such as a benefit concert for the Belle Zeller Scholarship Trust Fund, and played with an AAUP chamber music group.
After retiring as executive director, Cantor worked as an adjunct assistant professor at Baruch and earned his doctorate from CUNY. His dissertation, “The Academic Union as an Evolutionary Product of the Traditional Trade Union,” was a historical and sociological look at the Professional Staff Congress.
“He was a man with a mission, and you knew that once you sat with him,” recalled Paul Montagna, a professor emeritus of sociology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, who was one of Cantor’s dissertation readers. “But he was able to look at the history of the union objectively and critically.”
Cantor and his wife Meriam later moved to Ohio, where they lived their final years.
She died there in 2009. They are survived by their five children, Nadine, Duane, Paul, Glenn and Erica. Contributions in Arnold Cantor’s memory may be made to the Dr. Arnold Cantor Memorial Fund, c/o The Cleveland Music School Settlement, 11125 Magnolia Drive, Cleveland, OH 44106.