Lehman's Historic Past
Lehman College was established as an independent unit of The City University
of New York on July 1, 1968, following a decision by the University's Board
of Trustees to create a comprehensive senior college in the Bronx with its
own faculty, curriculum, and administration.
The College took over the campus that, since 1931, had served as the Bronx branch of Hunter College, known as Hunter-in-the-Bronx. Adjacent to the historic Jerome Park Reservoir, the first four buildings in the plan-Gillet and Davis halls, the Music Building, and the Gymnasium-were completed in 1931 by the New York State WPA. The original campus plan called for nine buildings, but the Great Depression delayed construction, and the ambitious plan was later abandoned by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia.
For a decade before the entry of the United States in the Second World War, only women students attended, taking their first two years of study at the Bronx campus and then transferring to Hunter’s Manhattan campus to complete their undergraduate work.
Shortly after U.S. entry into the war, the students and faculty vacated the campus and turned over the facilities to the U.S. Navy, which used them as a training station for the newly organized WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
To commemorate this period, the Navy later installed a ship’s bell from the U.S.S. Columbia on the campus. In 1946 the campus won a niche in world history when it was made available to the United Nations at the urging of New York City officials. From March to August 1946, the first American meetings of the Security Council were held in the Gymnasium Building where intercollegiate basketball, archery, swimming, and other sports have been played. During festivities marking the 40th anniversary of the United Nations in 1986, the Southern New York State Division of the United Nations Association presented the College with a commemorative plaque, now displayed outside the Gymnasium Building. The College participated in the United Nations’ 50th anniversary activities in 1995-96.
Normal collegiate activity resumed at the campus in 1947, but, in addition to women, the Bronx branch began accepting former servicemen, who studied in separate classes. In 1951 the campus became fully coeducational and a four-year curriculum was introduced. The process of separating the Bronx campus from Hunter College into a separate unit began in 1967. Dr. Leonard Lief, chairman of the English Department, was named provost and made responsible for overseeing the transition. On July 1, 1968, Lehman College began an independent existence, with Dr. Lief as president.
The Board of Higher Education named the new college after Herbert H. Lehman, in recognition of the commitment to public service exemplified by the four-time governor of New York State who later became a U.S. Senator and was the first director-general of UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). The College was formally dedicated on March 28, 1969, the 91st anniversary of Governor Lehman’s birth. Each year, on or about March 28, the College commemorates the double anniversary by inviting a distinguished speaker to deliver the Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture.
Much has occurred at the colleges of the City University since 1968. As the only CUNY senior college in the borough and southern Westchester County, Lehman College has adapted to meet changing conditions and is poised to respond to new needs and challenges.
On the undergraduate level, Lehman's General Education Curriculum is designed to provide a broad knowledge of the achievements and methods of the liberal arts and sciences and to develop student abilities to participate responsively in informed inquiry into subjects of both public and personal concern. It requires a series of courses in writing, mathematics, foreign language, and natural sciences. Students must also complete at least one course from a list of courses in seven areas: Individuals and Society; Socio-Political Structures; Literature; The Arts; Comparative Culture; Historical Studies; Knowledge, Self, and Values. In addition, students must complete two upper division interdisciplinary courses: one in Topics in the Humanities and the Sciences and one in the American Experience. To develop writing skills, students must complete four courses designated as writing-intensive. Major and minor fields of study are also required.
On the graduate level, the College has developed professional programs in nursing, teacher and counselor preparation, accounting, business, computer science, health services, public health, social work, and speech-language pathology. The College also offers strong traditional liberal arts graduate programs in art, biology, English, history, Spanish and mathematics.
For more than two decades, Lehman has deepened its involvement with the surrounding community. The opening of the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in 1980 and the Lehman College Art Gallery in 1984 has made the College a cultural center for the region. Together with the City and the Humanities Program, the Department of Music, and the Theatre program, they present dozens of concerts, plays, dance performances, and exhibitions that are free or nominally priced.
The Art Gallery is housed in the Fine Arts Building, which was designed by the renowned architect Marcel Breuer—as was Shuster Hall, which houses the College’s administrative offices. The Concert Hall, the adjacent Lehman College Library, and the two Breuer buildings offer a striking contrast to the Tudor-Gothic architecture of the original College buildings, providing an environment of considerable architectural interest. Anchoring the campus on its northern end is the APEX, designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly. Inside are sophisticated facilities for swimming, basketball, racquetball, weight training, track and field, and dance as well as new offices for security and academic departments.
One of the latest facilities to reach completion on the Lehman campus is Science Hall, a $70 million science facility with updated, versatile classrooms, labs, and instrumentation; a rooftop teaching and research greenhouse; and environmentally sustainable technologies. The new building stands adjacent to Gillet Hall, and is accessible from the older building through a third-floor catwalk.
Another facility, the new Child Care Center, opened its doors in fall 2013. The center features six classrooms; a multipurpose room that can function as a playroom, after-school space or additional classroom; and a natural playground incorporating greenery, boulders and garden space, along with traditional playground equipment.
Lehman College also provides a variety of community services. The Institute for Literacy Studies sponsors classes to teach adults fundamentals of reading and writing, while the Speech and Hearing Center offers comprehensive evaluations of hearing and speech-language disorders.
There is close collaboration between the College’s teacher and counselor education programs and Bronx school districts:
- The New York City Writing Project supports workshops for teachers of writing as well as research at all educational levels.
- The Center for School/College Collaboratives receives external funding for projects that focus on increasing educational success for Bronx students and their families and preparing the students to enter and complete higher education. The Center works with the entire school community—administrators, teachers, students, and parents—and collaborates with the Bronx Regional Offices of the New York City Department of Education.
- The Bronx Institute, funded with private and government grants, is helping more than 12,000 Bronx schoolchildren become academically successful.
Lehman also participates with the New York City Department of Education in developing small high schools in the Bronx. The schools—housed within larger, traditional high schools—are formed around the themes of the visual arts, teaching and the professions, music, health sciences, nursing, musical theatre, community research and learning, and international studies.
In addition, in Fall 2003, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College opened on the Lehman campus. One of New York City’s new specialized high schools and the only one to focus on American history, the school represents a collaboration among Lehman College, the New York City Department of Education, and the Gilder-Lehrman Foundation. It has been listed for several years by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation's top 100 public high schools, most recently (2012-13) as #6 in New York City and #44 in the nation.
Dr. Ricardo R. Fernández succeeded Leonard Lief, the founding president of Lehman College, on September 1, 1990. Dr. Fernández had been assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs and professor of educational policy and community studies at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Throughout his tenure, Dr. Fernández has affirmed both the College’s commitment to access to higher education for the economically disadvantaged and its strong commitment to educational excellence.