UC Berkeley News


Martin Meyerson

11 July 2007

Martin Meyerson, credited with defusing some of the Free Speech Movement era's tensions at Berkeley while serving as acting chancellor in 1965, died June 2, aged 84.

Martin Meyerson(1965 photo)

The New York City native, an authority on urban development, also served as dean of the College of Environmental Design (CED) from 1963 to 1965, after CED founder William Wurster stepped down.

Meyerson left the CED deanship between January and July of 1965 after being tapped by UC President Clark Kerr to serve as acting chancellor at Berkeley, replacing Edward Strong. "I was surprised as well as honored to be chosen," Meyerson said after Kerr's death in 2003. "The tasks we shared in the uncharted academic turbulence of the time changed my life and his life but not our values and interests in universities."

In a baccalaureate address to Berkeley's Class of 1966, Meyerson said that "probably no undergraduate class ever has been more admonished or harangued" by professors, parents, the press, politicians, and others. The students' campus experience in the 1960s, a period of growing student unrest, included the historic Free Speech Movement and Vietnam war protests.

"Protest without steps toward workable solutions is raw and empty and temporary. It cannot satisfy many except those who are satisfied with a howl of rage," Meyerson told the students. "But protest can provide a new vision. For protest is doubt charged with passion, and both doubt and passion are necessary ingredients of innovations - innovations which will provide the real achievements beyond the protests."

A 1966 proclamation issued by the UC Regents commended Myerson as acting chancellor for combining "sensitivity and imagination with leadership in dealing with problems unprecedented at the university," as well as for displaying "patience and diplomacy ... to restore order to the Berkeley campus and to instill in the academic community a new sense of unity and purpose."

Meyerson earned his bachelor's degree from Columbia University in 1942 and a Master of City Planning degree from Harvard University in 1949. He began his academic career in 1948, teaching at the University of Chicago and then at the University of Pennsylvania. During his career, he held a variety of administrative posts in higher education, including serving as the head of the Joint Center for Urban Studies run by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Meyerson also was acting dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design before moving on to the Buffalo job. He left Buffalo in 1970 to become the fifth president of the University of Pennsylvania, a post he held until his retirement in 1981.

Meyerson wrote several books on urban development and housing. He also served as an adviser to the United Nations on issues in Indonesia, Japan, Yugoslavia, France, and West Africa.

He is survived by his widow, Margy Ellin Meyerson; sons Adam and Matthew; and seven grandchildren. A daughter, Laura, died in 1988.

- Kathleen Maclay