"The university has been very good to me-I'm very grateful that someone who wasn't supposed to go to college, who almost ended up defending Miami Beach in the Cuban missile crisis, had such a wonderful career."
After decades of service to the university, Ron Stein remains steadfastly loyal to his alma mater
By Ann Whitcher
Recently retired as vice president for university advancement and development, Stein is discovering that he has more time for cherished, long-delayed pursuits, such as taking ballroom dance lessons with his wife and teaching scuba diving. But, as always, he remains connected to the university, now as an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, where this fall he will teach two courses and serve as an advisor to seven doctoral students.
During an interview this summer, Stein-casually attired in shorts and sneakers, feet up on the desk-muses about nearly four decades of uninterrupted participation in university life as student, activist, administrator, campus cheerleader and professor. Always, he has sought to put UB on the map with efforts that have shown a certain panache.
Stein, who has three UB degrees, almost didn't go to college. "When I was in high school," he says, "I was in a vocational education track. So I took a lot of shop and electrical courses, along with classes in woodworking, metallurgy and automobile repair. I was supposed to be a carpenter or a plumber. In fact, I ended up making a lot of lamps out of bowling pins. But I had never taken the SATs or anything to get into college."
By the time Stein was a high school junior, however, his new stepfather, a Buffalo physician, was pushing college. Stein applied and was accepted to UB only to flunk out when pharmacy turned out to be an unwise first choice of major. Later, in the early 1960s, after serving in the U.S. Army, he reapplied through Millard Fillmore College and began to flourish academically. Stein credits philosophy professor David H. DeGrood for the dramatic turnaround.
"He was just the most fabulous professor I had ever experienced," Stein recalls. "We would go to his house at night and talk about philosophy. So from then on, I proceeded to get all 'A's in philosophy and anthropology. And every semester, I would get two letters-one letter would say, 'Congratulations, you're on the dean's list,' while the second letter would say, 'You're on probation for academic difficulty.' You see, I had to make up a negative 49 quality points from the previous [false start]." Stein pursued philosophy with a passion, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, and in 1972, a doctorate in that discipline.
Many alumni will remember Stein as a student activist in the 1960s. He recalls this period with pride, and some amusement. Elected to serve as secretary and then president of the Graduate Student Association, he singles out two memorable student demonstrations.
"The Spectrum had submitted copy to its contract printer, Partners' Press. They [the Spectrum editors] put some four-letter words in the editorial. The late Al Abgott, chairman and cofounder of Partners', refused to print it. So it came back with a blank page. We, the student government leaders, were upset, as were the Spectrum editors, over what were perceived as censorship issues. We led a demonstration at Lockwood Library, then a march to the office of university president Martin Meyerson, and demanded that the university cancel all its contracts with Partners'." Stein and the other students ruefully discovered, however, that the only campus office with a current Partners' contract was the Undergraduate Student Association.
Student politics notwithstanding, this particular demonstration led to an event of great personal significance. "In those days, the faculty ate in what was called the Tiffin Room," Stein says. "We discovered that the price of the food was kept low, that it was subsidized by charging the students more. So I led a sit-in of President Meyerson's office, protesting the fact that students were being forced to subsidize faculty meals." Here he met his future wife, Andrea (Ed.D. '83 & B.A. '68), then the newly elected secretary of the Undergraduate Student Association.
In 1967, as Stein was finishing coursework for his Ph.D., he was named assistant dean of student affairs; he went on to serve in various student affairs posts. In 1976, he was named assistant to the former UB president, the late Robert L. Ketter. Stein would go on to serve UB president Steven B. Sample as executive assistant, interim vice president for sponsored programs and vice president for university relations. In 1992, UB President William R. Greiner named him vice president for university advancement and development.
Looking back on his career, Stein says he is especially proud of his role in helping secure what is now the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research while he was with sponsored programs in 1986. "Getting the center really put UB in the big leagues as a research university," Stein recalls. Most recently, it was under his watch that the university launched The Campaign for UB: Generation to Generation, which has a $250 million goal.
In his long tenure, Stein is also remembered for his efforts to promote the university, often in colorful ways that piqued the imagination and sometimes stirred controversy. He was responsible for Buffalo bidding on the 1993 World University Games, which took place at UB and other area locations; he also served as Games vice chair. While the Games were not quite the financial success that had been hoped for, they did allow the university to obtain a Division I football stadium and a world-class track and field stadium outside the SUNY budget. "I believe that if it wasn't for the World University Games we would never have gotten the stadium," Stein says.
In the mid-1990s, after visiting Penn State University and noting the attention given to the Nittany Lion, Stein began to investigate the idea of constructing a buffalo-or some other mascot-that students, alumni and visitors could learn to love as their own. The result of his unilateral campaign is the bronze buffalo permanently installed on Coventry Circle.
Now, says Stein, the buffalo is functioning very much as the sentimental touchstone he envisioned. "I was at commencement this past May and I arranged to meet someone out front by the buffalo. I couldn't get near it, however, because everyone was lined up to get their picture taken. This was the final memory they wanted of their experiences at UB-international students, in particular."
As he prepares his courses for the fall semester and consults the philosophy texts around him, Stein is thankful for what UB has given him, both as a student and in his various professional roles. "I was an administrator for 34 years, a vice president for 14 years and I served five presidents.
"The university has been very good to me-I'm very grateful that someone who wasn't supposed to go to college, who almost ended up defending Miami Beach in the Cuban missile crisis, had such a wonderful career. Now I have a chance to share some of the things I've learned along the way."