Una Clarke, a long-serving City Council member nominated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, an executive at the nonprofit Cancer Research Insitute (CRI) nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined the CUNY Board of Trustees this summer. Both bring academic experience to their new posts.
The 17-member board wields decision-making power on major university issues. It has the final say in approving the CUNY budget, tuition hikes and the PSC-CUNY contract. The board also exercises a role in setting curriculum; most recently it backed the Pathways agenda despite near-unanimous faculty opposition.
An Advocate for Education
Clarke is Mayor de Blasio’s first appointment to the board. She taught courses in education at Brooklyn College and Medgar Evers College, and from 1994 to 2001, she represented Brooklyn’s 40th Council District, which includes Prospect Lefferts, Prospect Park South and Ditmas Park. A Caribbean American, Clarke was an active member of the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus. She sponsored hundreds of pieces of legislation on issues including education, child welfare and economic development. Recently, Clarke criticized the governor for failing to back initiatives that she says would benefit the city.
“It’s clear that the governor is not supportive of the mayor and that’s unfortunate,” she told the The New York Carib News. “It hurts the city.”
She holds a bachelor’s of science from Long Island University and master’s of education from New York University. She will serve as a member of the board’s standing Committee on Fiscal Affairs and the Subcommittee on Investment. Clarke is also the mother of Yvette Clarke, New York’s 9th District representative in the US House of Representatives.
Head of Scientific Institute
Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, appointed by the governor, fills a seat vacant since 2013. A resident of Staten Island, O’Donnell-Tormey is CEO and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute in Manhattan. Prior to becoming an administrator at CRI, O’Donnell-Tormey was a research associate at the Weill Cornell Medical College and a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University. With a BS degree in chemistry from Farleigh Dickinson University and a PhD in cell biology from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, she will serve on the Board’s Standing Committee on Academic Policy, Program and Research.
Clarke replaces Joe Lhota, the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Republican candidate in the 2013 mayoral race won by de Blasio. Lhota stepped down earlier this year after serving on the board since 2001.
The governor originally intended O’Donnell-Tormey’s seat for former Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, but Molinaro faced confirmation hurdles, in part for offensive remarks, including his comments on cutting funding for programs that benefit teen mothers, and for calling singer Lady Gaga a “slut” in a 2012 public speech.
By state law, political appointments to the CUNY Board of Trustees must be confirmed by the State Senate. Of the 17 board members, 10 are appointed by the governor, and five are appointed by the mayor. The chairperson of the University Student Senate also sits on the board, as does the chairperson of the University Faculty Senate in a non-voting capacity. The trustees nominated by the governor and mayor serve seven-year terms that can be renewed once. The first Board of Trustees meeting for the academic year is Thursday, October 1. The PSC has an action planned for that day.