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Death of President Emeritus Martin Meyerson, 1922-2007
July 17, 2007, Volume 54, No. 1


Martin Meyerson

The president who guided the University of Pennsylvania through the 1970s and into the early eighties, died on June 2, after a long illness. President Emeritus Martin Meyerson was 84, and had been emeritus president for 26 years.

As an administrator, faculty member, volunteer, and mentor, Mr. Meyerson was an exemplary citizen of the University. As Penn’s fifth president from 1970 to 1981, President Meyerson drew upon his expertise as one of the nation’s preeminent city planners to articulate an integrated vision of “One University,” (Almanac January 29, 1973) in which all of Penn’s schools would collaborate to produce leading-edge teaching and research that benefited society.  “His broad interests and vast contributions personified the integration of knowledge that Penn holds dear,” said President Amy Gutmann.

“A person of great wisdom, warmth, and integrity, a personal friend to so many of us, Martin will be sorely missed by his extended Penn family and by everyone who had the privilege of getting to know him,” Dr. Gutmann added.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he was educated at Columbia and Harvard. After working for the Philadelphia Planning Commission, he began his academic career in 1948 as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago before coming to Penn in 1952 as an associate professor of city and regional planning, in the Graduate School of Fine Arts (now the School of Design).  In 1957, he left for Harvard University, where he was the Williams Professor, and then served as dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley, 1963-66. While at Berkeley, he served as acting chancellor in  1965 during the student unrest of the Free Speech movement. He then served as professor of public policy and president of the State University of New York at Buffalo, 1966-70, before returning to Penn as president in 1970.

As the first city planner to serve as president of a research university, Mr. Meyerson brought tremendous vision to his role as Penn’s president. He was particularly committed to the centrality of the liberal arts to a great research university. During the Meyerson presidency, the College, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College for Women, College of General Studies and the social science departments of the Wharton School—economics, political science, regional science and sociology—were consolidated to create what is now known as the School of Arts and Sciences in 1974.  His tenure was also marked by the creation of what later would become the College House system, as well as the freshman seminar program, the practice of responsibility center budgeting, the boards of overseers, the University’s first affirmative action program for women and minorities in 1972, a significant fund-raising campaign, the “Program for the Eighties” which was launched in 1975 and the transformation of the campus core with the creation of Blanche P. Levy Park.  He also summoned the University community to turn its attention to the challenges of West Philadelphia. For these and other accomplishments, Meyerson Hall was named in his honor in 1983.

The Meyerson presidency was the era when the Carnegie Commission-sponsored Communications Study, headed by Professor Robert Lewis Shayon  of the Annenberg School, led to the conversion of a monthly newsletter to the weekly Almanac as the University’s “journal of record and opinion for faculty and staff.”

After leaving the presidency, Mr. Meyerson remained active at Penn as University Professor of Public Policy Analysis and City and Regional Planning and as chair of the University of Pennsylvania Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Press (1984-1997 and then he became chair emeritus), the Institute for Research on Higher Education, and the Monell Chemical Senses Center. He was also co-chair of Penn’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1990.  Mr. Meyerson also served on the boards of the Mahoney Institute of Neurological Sciences, the Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies, and the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response.  He also chaired the University’s Fels Center of Government program until February 1996. With his wife, Margy, he was co-president of the Friends of the Library, in which capacity they served on the Library’s Board of Overseers.

In 1981, when Mr. Meyerson retired as President and assumed his new duties as President Emeritus, he established an office in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. “For the next 26 years, he was a constant presence at the Libraries, known to generations of staff and student workers for his warmth, generosity, and knowledge of all manner of subjects. Mr. Meyerson was elected President of the Friends of the Library in 1993 and, until his death, served as a tireless advocate of the Penn Libraries and valued member of its Board of Overseers,” said Carton Rogers, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries. The Meyersons have been extraordinary long-time supporters of the Library; they have established several endowed funds for the collections, to support the acquisition and conservation of scholarly material, and the Laura Jan Meyerson Poetry Fund in memory of their daughter.

On the second floor of the Library is the Martin and Margy Meyerson Conference Center, created in 2002, in their honor by former Trustees chairman Paul Miller and his wife, Warren. 

Mr. Miller, chairman during the Meyerson presidency, toasted the Meyersons at their farewell dinner on January 28, 1981: “Together they lifted the intellectual and societal aspirations of this community of scholars and increased the vitality of the University as an educational institution of international stature.”

Penn established the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professorship in Urbanism shortly after Mr. Meyerson left office in 1981 (Almanac February 2, 1988).

Mr. Meyerson headed the selection committee for the Philadelphia Liberty Medal from 1988 to 2005.

As an expert on national, regional, urban, and industrial development, Mr. Meyerson was a United Nations advisor and delegate, as well as a consultant to several West African nations and to the Governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.  He founded London’s Centre for Environmental Studies and Japan’s International Centre for the Study of East Asian Development and was an advisor to France’s Institut National de la Communication Audiovisuelle.  He served as Chair of the International Institute for Education and President of the International Association of Universities and held leadership positions with dozens of American organizations dedicated to urban affairs, education, science, foreign policy, conservation, and the arts.  He served on several White House task forces and on the councils of a number of government agencies.

Mr. Meyerson was also a trustee and senior fellow of the Aspen Institute and held planning positions with the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital, and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. He was also a director of a number of corporations, a member of the Senior Executives Council of the Conference Board, and a senior advisor to Arthur D. Little, Inc., the global management consulting firm.

His books included Politics, Planning, and Public Interest; Housing, People, and Cities; Face of the Metropolis; and Boston: The Job Ahead. With Dr. Dilys Winegrad, director and curator of the Arthur Ross Gallery, he wrote Gladly Learn and Gladly Teach, a history of Penn: Franklin and His Heirs at the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1976.

Mr. Meyerson was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society of Arts in Great Britain, and the American Institute of Certified Planners and an academician of the European Academy for Arts, Sciences, and Letters. In addition, he was a member of the executive committee of the American Philosophical Society and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Academy of Education. 

He was also decorated by the governments of France, Italy, and Japan. He received numerous prizes and held over 20 honorary degrees, including a doctor of laws degree conferred by Penn in 1970.

Mr. Meyerson is survived by his wife of 61 years, Margy Ellin Meyerson, G ’93, and their sons, Adam and Matthew. He is also survived by two daughters-in-law, Sandra Meyerson and Nina Shea, and seven grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Laura, in 1988.

The family has suggested that memorial donations be made to the University Libraries. For information, contact the Office of Development, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, 3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104-6206, (215) 573-3610.

A University-wide memorial service will be held on Friday, October 5, in the Harrison Auditorium, at the University Museum, 3-4 p.m., followed by a reception at the Museum.

Almanac - July 17, 2007, Volume 54, No. 1