Hostos professor, founding member and scholar dies

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CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez | Twitter

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Hostos Community College professor and founding faculty member Gerald Meyer died on Nov. 12.

“I am really saddened to learn of the passing of @HostosCollege Professor Emeritus Gerald J. Meyer, who I have known as a fellow historian since my days at @CentroPR,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez said in a tweet. “A true loss for @CUNY.”

Meyer valued education from early on in his life, he was the only one of his siblings to complete both a high school and college education. He came from a working-class family that lived in New Jersey. Later in his life he moved to Brooklyn.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from Rutgers University in 1965. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in Russian language and modern history from The City College of New York in 1968. He earned his Ph.D. from CUNY in 1984, according to Hostos Community College.

Meyer began his work as a historian, researcher, activist and educator.

A life-changing moment for Meyer was when he was writing his dissertation at the New York Public Library’s main branch in 1975, according to the CUNY Professional Staff Congress, which is the union for all CUNY faculty and staff.

He saw a headline in The New York Times that two CUNY colleges were going to close. Although they were not named, Meyer figured out one was Hostos.

Meyer worked at Hostos and was the first chapter chair of PSC. He knew he had to act urgently before Hostos became a name of the past, the PSC report said.

He reinstalled the student-member alliance, helped win additional building space, spoke at rallies to save Hostos and encouraged more people to join the fight for Hostos’ survival during a hard fiscal crisis.

“I really had the sense I was home [at Hostos],” Meyer said. “I felt very welcome there from the administration on down. They were very interested in building something that worked, and I was eager and willing to participate in that from the very beginning.”

Even after retirement, his passion for helping students continued as he founded the Circle of 100, which provided students with scholarships and emergency funds. He also remained an active member of the PSC campus chapter.

Meyer continued his research on the culture and history of the political left in America, teaching an extensive course on world history, and co-chaired the Behavioral Social Science Writer’s Group at Hostos.

On the political scale, Meyer was vocal from a young age about his political views by volunteering with the 1956 Adlai Stevenson presidential campaign. He spoke out against the McCarthyism campaign, petitioned for racial integration of his all-white school, took part in Civil Rights-era freedom rides and organized protests against the Vietnam War.

Meyer’s activism can be seen more recently when he picketed White Castle for failing to employ Black Americans. Meyer was arrested while supporting teachers striking against the Newark Board of Education, according to CUNY Matters.

Meyers contributed $25,000 to Hostos and put another $25,000 to be donated in his will. In addition to the monetary contribution, he donated valuable knowledge by lending his own extensive files to the Hostos Library.

Meyer’s activism and love for helping people were felt by his students. This was evident when Carlos Velasquez, a former student of his, donated $40,000 to Hostos, according to CUNY Matters.

“For his advocacy and generosity to Hostos, Room B-115 of the college’s Building B was renamed the “Vito Marcantonio Conference Room” in his honor.” La Voce di New York said.