A governing Council has led the university since its inception in 1846, but UB’s first chancellors were not appointed from the university community. They were distinguished Buffalo civic leaders charged with officially representing the university before the public. In 1922, Samuel P. Capen, former director of the American Council on Education, was hired by the University Council to become the first full-time chancellor, bringing the university into a new era. It was during Capen's tenure from 1922-1956 that the university became academically and financially unified.
UB’s chief executives retained the title of chancellor until 1962, when UB joined the State University of New York and became a public institution. Clifford C. Furnas, the guiding force in this merger, was the first to hold the new title of president, used thereafter by all of his successors in this office.
As the 14th president of the University at Buffalo, chief among John Barclay Simpson’s priorities was a clear and strong plan for UB’s advancement as a great public research university for the 21st century. He led the academic 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.
A nationally recognized advocate for the vital role of public higher education in American life, Dr. Simpson has 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.
Before his appointment as UB president, Dr. Simpson was campus provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he served from 1998-2003. His previous appointments include 23 years at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he joined the Department of Psychology faculty in 1975, later serving as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1994-98. A native of California, Dr. Simpson received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in neurobiology and behavior from Northwestern University. An accomplished research scientist who was appointed to the faculty of UB's Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Dr. Simpson has published widely in the field of neuroendocrinology.
Among his civic and professional leadership roles, Dr. Simpson was a member of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, Buffalo Niagara Partnership Board of Directors and the SUNY Research Foundation Board, and served on the New York State Commission on Higher Education and the American Council on Education’s Commission on International Initiatives. He was a member of the Council on Competitiveness as well as a former commissioner of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Dr. Simpson also was active in building strong and lasting relationships with the broader communities served by the university, regionally as well as globally. An active supporter of the arts, he was a member of the Erie County Rare Books Commission and former member of the board of directors of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the governing body of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery. In tribute to his service to the Western New York community, he received the 2009 Theodore Roosevelt Award for Exemplary Citizenship and Service from the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation. In testament to the University at Buffalo’s longstanding leadership in international education, he received an honorary degree from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in 2007.
During his 13 years as president, William R. Greiner expanded UB’s research enterprise, solidified its place as a top-flight public university and transformed student life with the development of state-of-the-art student apartment complexes. He also established UB as a leading international educational institution; during his tenure, the university developed pioneering collaborative programs with partner institutions in Poland, Cuba and Turkey. Known for his engaging administrative style, Greiner dramatically expanded the university’s cultural programming and outreach with the 1994 opening of the Center for the Arts. He also spearheaded UB’s drive to NCAA Division I athletics and oversaw the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university history. Greiner joined the UB law faculty in 1967, serving as chair of the Legal Studies Program and holding other leadership posts in the Law School before moving into university-wide administration. He became UB’s first provost—its chief academic officer—in 1984, serving for seven years until his appointment as president in 1991. Greiner received the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 2003. William R. Greiner Hall, UB’s newest and most innovative residence hall opening in fall 2011, is named for the former president, provost and longtime Law School professor.
Steven B. Sample was UB’s president for nearly a decade and went on to become president of the University of Southern California (USC). He led USC until his retirement in August 2009 and was widely credited for bringing about that institution’s dramatic rise in national rankings. As president, he led UB to greater levels of recognition, as reflected in UB’s election to the prestigious American Association of Universities in 1989. After arriving at UB from the University of Nebraska, where he was executive vice president for academic affairs and dean of the graduate college, Sample sought to improve UB’s research climate and better articulate its potential as a national university. In particular, he pushed for academic excellence, increased scholarly productivity among faculty and heightened research activity. He oversaw major campus construction, signed academic exchange agreements with institutions in Asia and Europe, and launched important initiatives to improve undergraduate life and academic experience. Under his leadership, the National Science Foundation in 1986 awarded the first National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research to a consortium headquartered at UB. An electrical engineer, Sample was known for his patents on various digital control panels, including the touch pad on microwaves used all over the world. In 2004, he received the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest honor.
As president, Robert L. Ketter guided UB through an unprecedented period of growth and achievement. He persevered with construction of the North Campus—one of the largest single architectural undertakings of any college or university in the nation—despite significant budgetary constraints. He also led UB amid the nation’s social and political turmoil of the 1970s, creating stability by uniting factions in the aftermath of UB’s own period of unrest. A distinguished scholar, Ketter set forth new academic directions and heights of excellence, including national recognition for outstanding programs in biochemistry, physiology and comparative literature. He also strengthened UB’s research programs, and initiated international programs in Korea, Japan and China. Arriving at UB in 1958, Ketter served in key academic and administrative positions, including professor and chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, dean of the Graduate School and vice president for facilities planning. Later, he was named leading professor of engineering, and from 1985-89 was director of the present-day MCEER—Earthquake Engineering to Extreme Events. Robert L. Ketter Hall, home to the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, was dedicated in his honor in 1987. In 1988, Ketter was named SUNY Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering by the SUNY Board of Trustees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.