Ira Glasser was born in Brooklyn in 1938 and has lived most of his life in New York City. Formally trained in mathematics, he taught that subject during the early sixties at Queens College (CUNY) and Sarah Lawrence College, and helped develop new teaching methods in mathematics for elementary school children at the University of Illinois.

In 1967, he joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as Associate Director, and was appointed NYCLU Executive Director in 1970, a post he held until 1978, when he was selected as national Executive Director of the NYCLU’s parent group, the American Civil Liberties Union. He served in that capacity for 23 years until his retirement in mid-2001. Shortly after he retired, a new Racial Justice Fellows Program was established by the American Civil Liberties Union in his name.

He was for 30 years a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and served as President of the Board of Directors of the Drug Policy Alliance for more than 20 years since its inception. Ira joined the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics' Board of Advisors in 2003, and he currently serves on the Board of Advisors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.