BUFFALO. N.Y. -- William R. Greiner has always remained true to
his roots. UB's 13th president serving a little more than 13 years,
Greiner drives a vibrant blue UB car with the license plate UB13.
But given that his heart is firmly in teaching and research, his
latest project, "Location, Location, Location: A Special History of
the University of/at Buffalo" is completely in character.
Co-authored with former Law School Dean and SUNY Distinguished
Service Professor Thomas E. Headrick, "Location, Location,
Location" boldly examines some of the most celebrated urban legends
surrounding UB. Many of them revolve around building the UB campus
in Amherst, which today comprises 146 buildings on 1,192 acres and
is one of three UB campuses, including the original South Campus on
Main Street in Buffalo and a new Downtown Campus in Buffalo that is
beginning to take shape.
Greiner looks much the same as he did when, as provost in the
1980s, he talked demonstrating students into leaving the
president's office without incident, not to mention the '90s, when
he cultivated many of the Buffalo-UB alliances that have blossomed
today under current UB President John B. Simpson. Greiner's insight
into how and why UB got to be where it is may just close the book
on some of Buffalo's popular misconceptions.
In the Q&A below, he discusses the some of the findings
described in the book.
Tell us briefly why the location of UB's North Campus in
Amherst matters so much to those within the UB community and those
in the Buffalo community at large?
WG: There are many answers to that question, and we explore many
of them in the book. Most simply put, we think that "the question"
reflects a belief that UB is a very important public asset, a point
of view with which we strongly agree. There's also a belief that if
only the new campus had been located somewhere in downtown Buffalo,
downtown Buffalo would have been "saved," and this point we think
is, at best, debatable.
In particular, we think that the continual assertion that the
Amherst location is a "mistake" can only be tested in light of the
conditions and possibilities at the time the decision was made. As
a minimum, we provide some graphic evidence of the alternatives
available to the SUNY Trustees in 1964 and 1967 as well as
narrative of the decision process, and the hopes and aspirations of
the university and its constituents when the decision about the
Amherst site was made by the SUNY Trustees.
Did the decision to build the North Campus in Amherst have
anything to do with a desire to exile UB's students from downtown
WG: We don't think so. As far as we can tell, the SUNY Trustees
never seriously considered a downtown/waterfront site for UB. Their
choices were between a new campus in Amherst; an expanded campus at
Main and Bailey; or split campuses, i.e. the old campus at Main and
Bailey and a new campus in Amherst. We, too, have heard the rumors
about some community leaders in 1964 wanting to isolate students,
but we found no evidence for that proposition. The evidence does
support the proposition that the choice of Amherst and the
two-campus solution was based on careful and very deliberate
academic planning led by UB President Clifford Furnas and which
engaged UB faculty and staff, the UB Council, and the SUNY Central
There's an interesting subplot with UB alumnus Frank Moore.
How did he play a significant role in UB's transition from a
private to a public university?
WG: A graduate of the UB Law School, Moore practiced law in
Buffalo, held public office in Tonawanda and Kenmore, town clerk
and mayor, and later as state comptroller and lieutenant governor.
He was a close associate of Nelson Rockefeller. Moore was appointed
to the SUNY Board of Trustees and Board Chairman by Gov. Harriman.
Moore was one of several state officials and state civic leaders
with Western New York roots when Governor Rockefeller set about
expanding the fledgling State University of New York soon after he
became governor in 1959.
Having a UB alumnus as chair of the SUNY Trustees during the
build out of SUNY certainly may have been a positive factor in the
choice of UB to become SUNY's major "upstate" university.
Here's the other urban legend: What about those lasting
reports of influential land developers making money by getting the
state to buy land in Amherst?
WG: In our opinion, no! My co-author Tom pored over the land
records regarding the North Campus site acquisition. He found no
evidence to support the frequently made claims of insider dealing
involving these land purchases. About 72 percent of the parcels
acquired were of three acres or less; 93 percent were of five acres
or less. In terms of dollar values, 81 percent of the parcels sold
for $30,000 or less; and all parcels sold at prices per acre well
within the range of then-current prices for developable land in
that part of Amherst. The acquired parcels were sold by many
owners, none of whom had connections to UB or SUNY.
As with most of the rumors about the North Campus, the evidence
doesn't support the allegation.
What prompted you to pick that topic and title focusing on
UB's places rather than on your experiences as president?
WG: I arrived in summer 1967, and Tom Headrick in summer 1975.
When I got here, not much was being said about the matter. We
regularly heard the talk about the possibility that there might
have been a "downtown" campus "on the waterfront" as an alternative
to Amherst. Neither of us paid much attention at that time. We both
were immersed in the building of an expanded Law School in our new
North Campus location, O'Brian Hall. By that time, the wringing of
hands over the decision to locate in Amherst had become a Buffalo
habit, reinforced by lots of rumor and innuendo, including charges
of insider dealing regarding the purchase and sale of the land
assembled for the North Campus. While I was president and Tom was
provost, we had other things to do, but we vowed to look into the
matter when we went back to teaching.
Along the way, our research expanded into a broader view, i.e.,
not only how did we get to Amherst, but how did the South Campus
get to Main and Bailey in Buffalo; and where were we before that?
We think that we answer most of the questions regarding the North
We were helped by colleagues, here and elsewhere; by the
writings of Clifford Furnas, and Julian Park, first dean of the
college; and by our superb library staff, and especially the
archives staff. We put together a capsule history of UB from 1846
to 1973. We pay special attention to the process of selecting and
designing the North Campus, but there's more to it than that. And I
should acknowledge two special contributors, E.J. Snyder and Steve
Mindy, two very talented law students and indefatigable archival
Will UB's plans to expand its presence in Buffalo finally put
to rest some of the myths and allegations surrounding the decision
to build the North Campus in Amherst?
WG: Probably not. Old habits are very hard to break. The plans
for expanding the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, however, rest on
a much more solid footing. We have never had a true central place
for our medical school's clinical practice and teaching. Our
capacity for doing biomedical research will also be greatly
enhanced by our partnership with Roswell Park Cancer Institute and
Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. The BNMC is one
foundation for an exciting future for our region and for UB.
Success in the years ahead will cure our tendency to focus on the
past and its myths.
What would you tell someone about the book if you only had 60
seconds in a noisy room?
WG: It's a labor of love about a remarkable institution located
in a great community. Its purpose is to see if the truth really can
set us free.