The Brooklyn Campus, the original unit of Long Island University, has deep historic roots that stretch back to 1926, when the New York Board of Regents granted Long Island University a provisional charter. Its founders were committed to admitting students based on merit and promise alone, never impeding their enrollment because of their sex, race, religion or national origin. This was a unique and progressive philosophy during an age that was often defined by quotas and discrimination. That same philosophy carries on at the Brooklyn Campus today, where students from across the country and around the globe continue to have access to an excellent private education.
The first class at the Campus’ original site located at 300 Pearl Street, was comprised of 312 students from the surrounding neighborhoods. They were immigrants or the children of immigrants, who were searching to better themselves by gaining the knowledge and the skills needed to survive and thrive. The University took into account the needs and aspirations of these students, offering courses in accounting, retailing and secretarial studies that would prepare them for the working world, while providing them with a strong liberal arts foundation. In 1929, the University affiliated itself with the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, adding a popular new major to its offerings.
But, the momentum behind the institution’s initial growth slowed during the Great Depression. As the economy plunged to devastating lows, so did the University’s finances. There was no reprieve in the years to come. During World War II, because of the draft, enrollment decreased radically, debt was “substantial,” and the institution’s demise seemed imminent. The University filed for bankruptcy protection. The original building at Pearl Street was sold, and classes were held in scattered quarters, but the school persevered. At the end of the War, thanks to the GI Bill of Rights, enrollment began to increase exponentially.
At the same time, demographics were changing in the City and beyond. The population was becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. Students from new underrepresented groups found educational opportunity at the University, taking advantage of its moderate prices, flexible schedules and policy of nondiscrimination. And this diversity began to be reflected in its faculty. The University employed women and minorities in teaching positions before many other institutions ever considered hiring them.
As demand for education increased, new undergraduate majors were introduced, graduate programs were added, and the University purchased a new permanent home by acquiring the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre, which eventually was converted into the Metcalfe Building. It also began to construct dormitory facilities to accommodate the increasing number of students who wanted to live on campus.
In the ’60s, students at the Brooklyn Campus, then known as the Brooklyn Center, rallied against the war in Vietnam and fought for civil rights. One of the most significant demonstrations, however, involved an issue that was closer to home: students and faculty members joined together to protest the proposed sale of the Campus, which had been put forward by some trustees and administrators as a means to fund a new graduate campus on Long Island. Hearings were held, law suits were filed, and students marched to City Hall. With the support of Mayor John Lindsay, the Campus was preserved as a private institution.
In 1972, administrators and faculty members negotiated the first collectively bargained faculty agreement at a private university in the United States. And the Campus continued to grow despite economic challenges. Combining funds from a federal grant earmarked to restore urban areas with a private donation, the Campus built the Library Learning Center in 1973.
Recent decades have brought significant upgrades to the Campus’ physical plant, including new structures such as the Zeckendorf Health Sciences Center; the Jeanette and Edmund T. Pratt Jr. Center for Academic Studies; the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center; and the Louise B’69 and Leonard Riggio Cyber Café.
Today, the Brooklyn Campus is thriving. With more than 11,200 students, over 200 academic programs and a proud history of excellence in Division I athletics, it continues to build on its tradition of inclusion and responsiveness to serve its students and the community at large.