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Gerald J. Meyer Archival Finding Aid

Gerald J. Meyer Archival Collection at Hostos Community College

Gerald J. Meyer Biography and Scope and Content Note

Biographical/Historical note

Hostos Community College was founded as part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system in 1968 in response to demands by Latino and other community leaders who felt that the city needed a college that met the needs of the largely Latino and Black population of the South Bronx. Established in a renovated tire factory, on the southwest corner of East 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, the college earned distinction as the only bilingual college on the east coast. It admitted a charter class of 623 students in 1970. By the mid 1970s, Hostos had a student population that was 98% nonwhite; about 65% of whom were Latinos. Studies conducted in the 1970s showed that the college primarily served an older population. In 1975, the average age of the predominantly female student body was 27 years old. At the same time, around 40% of entering students were high school dropouts who earned diplomas through the G.E.D. program. Only about half of entering students were English-dominant; of those students one quarter read below the 8th grade level.

Despite Hostos’ unique position as a community college serving populations that were poorer, older, and less educated than other colleges in the CUNY system the city attempted to close the college and merge it with Bronx Community College in the 1975-1976 academic year. This action provoked immense opposition from the Hostos students, faculty, and residents of the South Bronx, as well as local politicians. The responses included: letters to U.S. congressmen and state legislators; organized protests in the community and City Hall; and building takeovers, including a twenty-day occupation of the Hostos campus. Some students and professors active in the occupation of Hostos were punished with arrests and layoffs as consequence of these activities. In April 1976, the Board of Higher Education rescinded its earlier resolution closing Hostos.

During this period, pro-Hostos students and faculty argued that the college’s low enrollment was due in part to their cramped facilities. After massive campaigns—organized by the Professional Staff Congress, which represented the faculty and professional staff, and the Student Government Organization—the state legislature modified the state budget which funded the acquisition of a building at 500 Grand Concourse. A third campaign in the 1977-1978 academic year successfully pressured the City to appropriate sufficient funds for renovation of the 500 Building and its conversion into an educational facility. Moreover, the State Legislature also passed a law forcing CUNY to leave Hostos intact at its South Bronx location. The campus was further expanded in the 1980s and early 1990s under an ambitious master plan.

Hostos Community College continues to serve a largely Latino student body from the Bronx, Harlem, and Washington Heights. The college offers English as a Second Language (ESL) to its students and sponsors various programs to teach English, vocational skills, and other courses. In addition to its liberal arts and sciences program, the college’s specialty continues to be educating students in the fields of allied health including dental hygiene, nursing, radiologic technology, and gerontology.

Biographical History:

Dr. Gerald J. Meyer is a founding member of the faculty at Hostos Community College (CUNY). Initially a historian, he continued his career as a researcher, activist and educator. Dr. Meyer was the chair of the Save Hostos Committee that worked to keep the college open when the CUNY Board of Higher Education threatened its existence in during the mid-1970s.

He remains a Professor Emeritus at Hostos Community College, where he had served as the Chair of the Behavioral and Social Science Department and Coordinator of the Social Science Unit.

Also a published author, Dr. Meyer wrote the biography, Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954, which is in its fourth printing. He also co-edited The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism and with Philip Cannistraro. Dr. Meyer has published over sixty articles and reviews on a wide range of subjects, including the Italian-American educator, Leonard Covello, as well as the intersection of radicalism and immigrants, culture and the Left.

Dr. Meyer serves on the editorial boards of Socialism and Democracy and Science & Society, appears in documentaries, reviews manuscripts for publication and lectures widely. He has helped launch the Vito Marcantonio Forum, which is dedicated to advancing the life and work of that great Italian American fighter for those left out of the American Dream.

Dr. Meyer is currently co-chair of the Hostos Circle of 100 Scholarship and Emergency Fund which he co-founded in 2007. The Fund provides emergency grants of up to $500 to students in need and $1,000 scholarships to those transferring to four-year colleges.

For his advocacy and generosity to Hostos Community College, Room B-115 of the college's Building B was renamed the "Vito Marcantonio Conference Room" in honor of Dr. Meyer in February of 2012.

Dr. Meyer earned a B.A. in History from Rutgers in 1965 and an M.A. from City College, CUNY, in Russian and Modern European History in 1968. In 1984, he earned his Ph.D. from CUNY.

Dr. Meyer was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and raised in Hudson County, New Jersey. He now resides in Brooklyn, NY.

Scope and Content note

The Gerald Meyer Collection contains materials that span his professional career from 1969-2009. The bulk of the material is composed of items documenting the 1970s through the 1990s. Materials include correspondence, meeting minutes, flyers, announcements, posters, Hostos publications, and his personal manuscripts. Also of significance are files containing clippings, letters, announcements, writings, publications, and photographs that document the three major mobilizations to acquire more space and to save Hostos from closure during the 1970s.