Levin-Stankevich (photo by Richard Mickelson)
Growing up during the Cold War in Buffalo’s Kaisertown district—a Polish and Slavic community—it seemed fitting that Brian Levin-Stankevich, of Slavic descent, would take an interest in Russian history. In fact, he would go on to specialize in 19th-century Russian history, earning both master’s and PhD degrees from the UB history department. He also studied and experienced the former Soviet Union as a Fulbright scholar there in 1977.
And while many PhDs enter the field of teaching and higher education, few attain Levin-Stankevich’s career heights. In 2006, after more than 20 years in academia as a professor and administrator, he was named chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, which has an enrollment of 10,063 undergraduates and, according to Levin-Stankevich, is one of the Midwest’s top public universities.
Amid his busy chancellorship, Levin-Stankevich expects to apply his expertise in Russian history. That is, he believes that his doctoral and master’s studies at UB are fundamental to his current beliefs and practices in leadership, organizational communication and social structure. Studying Russia and the Soviet Union “taught me how to not do planning,” he says. “By studying broad social movements, I realized how individual groups played a role in them. Working at a university is the same in that I learned how to work with different interest groups to become more aligned toward producing goals in common.”
Indeed, Russian and European specialist Helju Bennett, now UB associate professor emerita of history, and the late Clifton Yearley, former history department chair, had a profound impact on Levin-Stankevich’s scholarly career and how he handles himself today as a campus administrator. Levin-Stankevich also benefited from serving as a teaching assistant in the UB history department. “You develop certain skills, teach yourself and analyze certain data,” he says. “You communicate very well when you study history, or any of the social sciences. Those skills serve you well in any career.”
Analyzing what’s needed in the contemporary university, Levin-Stankevich believes that undergraduate students need a strong liberal arts education, and that they should not “try not to overspecialize too early in [their] career.” However, once young adults have gained experience in a wide variety of areas, they should absolutely specialize in a career that they love, Levin-Stankevich maintains. “If you don’t, then you’re miserable,” he says.
Throughout his career, Levin-Stankevich has maintained his Buffalo connections. For instance, at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, where he was provost and vice president for academic affairs, several of his colleagues were originally from Buffalo or were fellow graduates of UB. “Buffalo people are always good people to work with,” he says.
Levin-Stankevich and his wife, Debi, have been married for 33 years; the couple has twin sons, Matthew and Steven. Matthew may be following in his footsteps—the Buffalo State College senior is also student body president. Steven is a graduate student in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota.
And in another Buffalo connection, Levin-Stankevich, an avid cyclist and hockey player, also enjoys watching the Sabres and Bills. “I went to high school with Tim Russert, so it’s always fun to hear him talk about the Bills and Sabres [on NBC’s Meet the Press].”
Story by Jessica Griffin