Everyday Hero Arnold Korotkin
Winner: AFT Higher Education division
Sociology professor, Montclair State University, Montclair, N.J.
Montclair State University Federation of Adjunct Faculty
When residents in Newark and Jersey City, N.J., worried about lead in the water at their public schools, Arnold Korotkin blogged about it, prompting officials to test the water—even though he had no children in the schools. When 9-11 survivors and their families craved information without having to wade through endless newspapers and television shows, he created a listserv linking them to worthwhile articles—even though he'd lost no one close to him in the tragedy. The list, which has expanded to about 5,000 people, still goes out daily.
Korotkin, a part-time adjunct professor of sociology at Montclair State University for 30 years, retired from full-time work at the New York City Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services, but his days are filled with volunteer work. As a "cybrarian," he organizes information for a national aviation safety group advocating for safety and for the families of people who have died in airplane accidents. He maintains a blog called "The Gadfly," keeping his Little Falls neighbors informed about everything from property taxes to overtesting in the schools, from highway construction to video surveillance at the municipal building. He once advocated for New Jersey Transit to construct a bus shelter—and jokes that it should be named for him when he dies.
Korotkin is the kind of person who steps up when something needs doing. Like union work. "All workers should have a union," he adds. "The union levels the playing field; it advocates for all." Korotkin is active in his local as the co-director of COPE (Committee on Political Education), sending out a daily list of links and articles about politics relevant to the union and the university.
He's also deeply immersed in teaching, and passes on his empathy to his students. In his class on the sociology of illness and health, he shows a film made in part by people with disabilities, then offers extra credit: Spend an afternoon navigating a shopping mall—including the food court and restrooms—from a wheelchair. He goes the extra mile, too: He contacted the filmmakers and plans for the class to Skype with one of the students' favorite actors.