NEW YORK — Gerald W. Lynch, who led the fight to preserve John Jay College of Criminal Justice when it was threatened with closing or merger because of New York City’s fiscal crisis, died Wednesday at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 76.
He died after a brief illness, said Mayra Nieves, special adviser to the president of John Jay.
Dr. Lynch, the college’s longest-serving president, was a psychology professor when he was named acting president of John Jay in 1975. Within weeks, the entire City University of New York system became embroiled in the fiscal crisis, and John Jay’s future was in doubt.
Mayor Abraham D. Beame had ordered the CUNY system to cut nearly $100 million from its budget. One solution proposed by City University chancellor Robert J. Kibbee involved closing or merging multiple schools, one of them John Jay. The Board of Higher Education, now called the City University of New York board of trustees, was ready to go along, but Dr. Lynch opposed the plan.
He enthusiastically supported student protests, even scaling a wooden barricade with a megaphone to lead hundreds of students in chants. He also courted high-profile supporters in politics and law enforcement, including Police Commissioner Michael J. Codd and Nicholas Scoppetta, then the city’s commissioner of investigations and a teacher at John Jay. And he cut nearly $3 million with an austerity budget of his own.
‘‘Even though this is radical surgery,’’ Dr. Lynch said, ‘‘it is better than death.’’
The Board of Higher Education merged many of the other CUNY schools, but John Jay survived.
Dr. Lynch was formally sworn in as president in March 1977 and remained until 2004.
During his tenure, John Jay became one of the top criminal justice programs in the country, and enrollment nearly doubled to 14,104 at his retirement, from 7,229 in 1976.
He also secured financing for John Jay’s first official home, the former Haaren High School, in the late 1980s, and persuaded the CUNY system to transform it into a blocklong state-of-the-art building on 11th Avenue that opened in 2011. A campus theater was named for him in 2004.
Gerald Weldon Lynch was born in New York to Alice Margaret and Edward Dewey Lynch. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University.
Dr. Lynch became a psychology professor at John Jay in the mid-1960s. He soon became the dean of students and eventually the vice president and acting dean of faculty.
He was widely sought after as an expert on an array of topics.
He led a study panel on legalizing casino gambling in New York state in the late 1970s and early 1980s under Mayor Edward I. Koch and Governor Hugh L. Carey; advocated for the professionalization of the police and fire departments; and was a staunch opponent of capital punishment.