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University at Buffalo Libraries

University Archives

Chancellors and Presidents of the University

There has always been a governing board known as the Council for the University of Buffalo since its inception in 1846, but the first Chancellors were not appointed from the university community. They were distinguished citizens of Buffalo, lawyers and politicians, whose official functions were just to represent the University before the public. The deans of the individual schools were separately responsible for their departments' educational and financial affairs. Then in 1920, Chairman of the Council, Walter P. Cooke organized a city-wide financial campaign that enabled the University to be able to hire a Chancellor that would bring the University into a new era. In 1922 Samuel P. Capen, former director of the American Council on Education, was hired by the Council to become the first full time Chancellor at the University of Buffalo. It was during Capen's tenure from 1922-1956 that the University became academically and finacially unified.

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874)

Chancellor: 1846-1874

A founder of the University of Buffalo, lawyer and congressman Millard Fillmore was Chancellor from 1846 to 1874. During his tenure as Chancellor, Fillmore served as Comptroller of New York State (1848-1849) and Vice President (1849-1850) and President (1850-1853) of the United States. Fillmore died in March of 1874. Since 1960 the University has co-sponsored a recognition ceremony at Fillmore's gravesite at Forest Lawn Cemetery on the anniversary of his birth, January 7th.

Orsamus H. Marshall (1813-1884)

Chancellor: 1874-1884

The University's second Chancellor, Marshall was a prominent Buffalo lawyer and the author of several volumes of historical writings on the Niagara Frontier. Although he did not officially become Chancellor until 1882, as Chairman of the Council Marshall was the University's chief executive officer when the post of Chancellor was vacant after Fillmore's death in 1874.

Eben Carleton Sprague (1822-1895)

Chancellor: 1885-1895

The Honorable E. Carleton Sprague, founder of the law firm of Sprague, Morey & Sprague, was the University's third Chancellor, holding that post from 1885 until 1895. During Sprague's tenure, the University of Buffalo expanded to include schools of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Law. Before becoming Chancellor, Sprague was one of the principle organizers of the American International Bridge Company which later merged with the Canadian Colonial International Bridge Company in order to build the first international railway bridge across the Niagara River in 1870.

James O. Putnam (1818-1903)

Chancellor: 1895-1902

Putnam, a New York State Senator and one-time Postmaster General of Buffalo, was a member of the University Council for 32 years and one of the original founders of the University. He became Chancellor in 1895, an office he held until his resignation in 1902 a few months before his death. During his tenure, the New York State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases (now Roswell Park Cancer Institute) was founded at the University. It was the first government supported cancer research program in the world.

Wilson S. Bissell (1847-1903)

Chancellor: 1902-1903

Bissell was the University's Vice-Chancellor from 1895 until 1902, and became its fifth Chancellor in 1902 - his tenure cut short by his untimely death in October 1903. During his lifetime Bissell was a law partner in the firm of Grover Cleveland and served as Postmaster General of the United States from 1893-1895 during Cleveland's Presidency. He also was on the board of managers for the Erie County Hospital as well as on the board of the Buffalo Historical Society from 1889 until his death.

[George Gorham (1837-1906) was Acting Chancellor from 1903-1905]

Charles P. Norton (1858-1923)

Chancellor: 1905-1920

A lawyer who graduated from Harvard in 1880, Norton helped found the Buffalo Law School, which was assumed into the University of Buffalo in 1891. Norton is now considered the sixth Chancellor of the University holding the office from 1905-1920. During his tenure the College of Arts and Sciences was established and the property that became South Campus was acquired. His last public appearance as the University's chief executive was in June 1920 when he broke ground for the University's new campus.

[Walter P. Cooke, chairman of the University Council, served as Acting Chancellor from 1920-1922]

Samuel P. Capen (1878-1956)

Chancellor: 1922-1950

Capen was the first full-time, salaried Chancellor of the University of Buffalo. Prior to coming to the University, he served as Director of the American Council on Education. Under his leadership, the University was transformed from a small group of autonomous schools into a modern university of 14 divisions and a central campus. Capen was acknowledged as a leader in higher education, particularly known for his strong defense of academic freedom and innovation in liberal arts instruction.

T.R. McConnell (1901-1989)

Chancellor: 1950-1954

McConnell, an educator and psychologist, came to the University from the University of Minnesota where he was the Dean of the College of Sciences, Literature, and Arts. Under his leadership, the University's organization was modernized, the first residence halls opened, and the Medical School moved to the main campus.

[Dr. McConnell's resignation took effect June 30, 1954 and Mr. Furnas' appointment effective September 1, 1954. Seymour H. Knox, Chairman of the Council was appointed Acting Chancellor for the period July 1 to August 31, 1954.]

Clifford C. Furnas (1900-1969)

Chancellor: 1954-1962, President: 1962-1966

Furnas, a chemical engineer, metallurgist, aviator researcher, and Olympic athlete, was the University's ninth chief executive, holding the position of Chancellor from 1954 until 1962 when the University merged with the State University of New York and his title changed to President. Furnas undertook an extensive program of expansion and enrichment to meet the growing educational needs of Western New York. He was the guiding force in the merger of the private UB with the State University of New York in 1962.

Claude E. Puffer served as Acting Chancellor from December 5, 1955 to February 1, 1957 while Chancellor Furnas served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for the United States.

See also the digital collection, The Clifford C. Furnas Collection

Martin M. Meyerson (1922-2007)

President: 1966-1969

Meyerson, whose academic background was in environmental design and urban planning became the University's tenth President in 1966. Previously, he was professor of urban development and dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. He served as Interim Chancellor for UC Berkeley from January to July, 1965 at the height of their campus controversy concerning student rights and privileges. During his tenure at Buffalo, this campus saw a similar period of student unrest. Meyerson's presidency was noted for academic innovation in the period of rapid growth as the plans were laid and ground was broken for a new campus in Amherst, N. Y. When he officially left the University in 1970, he became president of the University of Pennsylvania, serving that school until 1981.

[Peter F. Regan, III was Acting President from August 11, 1969 to June 30, 1970.]

Robert L. Ketter (1928-1989)

President: 1970-1982

A member of the University faculty since 1958, Ketter served as the first chairman of the Department of Civil Engineering, Dean of the Graduate School, and the Vice President for Facilities Planning. During his tenure as President, he oversaw the construction of the Amherst Campus, strengthened the University's research programs, initiated international programs in Korea, Japan, and China, and was a key player in the development of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER).

Steven B. Sample (1940-2016)

President: 1982-1991

An electrical engineer who is known for his patents on various digital control panels including the touch pad on microwaves used all over the world, Sample became the University's twelfth President in 1982. He led the University to greater levels of recognition, as reflected in UB's election to the prestigious Association of American Universities. After leaving the University at Buffalo in 1991 he became the tenth President of the University of Southern California. In 2001, Sample wrote The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, which was voted as one of the top 10 business books of that year.

In 2004, the Sample received the "Chancellor's Medal," the most prestigious award given by the University bestowed to individuals whose accomplishments have greatly added to the prestige of the city of Buffalo and often to the University as well.

William R. Greiner (1934-2009)

President: 1991-2004

President Greiner joined the UB law faculty in 1967 and shortly thereafter became chairman of the Legal Studies Programs. By 1984, he was named UB's first University Provost. He served as interim president from March 1991 until his appointment as president by the Chancellor and Board of Trustees on September 25, 1991. Greiner's accomplishments as president included creating numerous trans-disciplinary research centers and institutes; reaffirming the University's commitment to public service; streamlining student services and record enrollments; increasing exchange and study abroad programs; conducting a record-breaking capital campaign; constructing a series of student residential centers and other major construction projects; creating of Task Forces on Women and on Racial and Ethnic Diversity; and moving the UB football team to Division 1-A.

John B. Simpson (1947- )

President: 2004-2011

John B. Simpson took office as UB's 14th president on January 1, 2004. Coming from a background in neurobiology and neuro-endocrinology, Simpson spent twenty-three years at the University of Washington as a professor of psychology and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In July 1998 he was appointed to the University of California, Santa Cruz as executive vice chancellor and a year later he also became provost. As UB’s 14th president, Simpson led the campus community in launching UB 2020, a long-range strategic vision focused on investing in core interdisciplinary areas of research strength, transforming institutional operations, and implementing a comprehensive physical plan. An nationally recognized advocate for the vital role of public higher education in American life, Simpson published widely on the impact of research universities in social and economic prosperity. A leading voice on educational access and collaboration, he championed a historic partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools to improve educational outcomes, and significantly expanded the university’s relationships with its broader communities regionally and globally.

Satish K. Tripathi (1951- )

President: 2011-

Biographical information on the Office of the President website.