William R. Greiner Dies

UB's 13th president was beloved leader, professor and mentor

Release Date: December 21, 2009 This content is archived.


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William R. Greiner, who spent 42 years at the University at Buffalo as president, provost and longtime Law School faculty member, died on Dec. 19.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- William R. Greiner, who spent 42 years at the University at Buffalo as president, provost and longtime Law School faculty member, died surrounded by family members in the Cleveland Clinic on Saturday (Dec. 19) due to complications from heart surgery. He was 75.

Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service will be held at UB next semester.

Greiner, who joined the law faculty in 1967, rose through the faculty and administrative ranks, culminating with his appointment as UB's 13th president in 1991. He served until 2003, and was named UB president emeritus on Nov. 17 by the SUNY Board of Trustees.

"We are saddened for the future generation of UB students who will never get to benefit from his knowledge and teaching, and his gift as an educator," said Carol Greiner, who met her husband when they were young children in Meriden, Conn.

"He was first and foremost a family man. His grandchildren are at an age where they are beginning to accomplish their own achievements. It will be difficult for him not to be there enjoying and appreciating their accomplishments.

"Despite all his titles, accolades and accomplishments, he was always a teacher and educator. After his family, teaching is what he loved most."

Greiner's administrative leadership resulted in a period of unprecedented growth at UB. His extensive list of major accomplishments includes the expansion of the university's research enterprise, including the creation of major research institutes and recruitment of world-class faculty, solidifying UB's place as a top-flight research university. He transformed student life, including the development and construction of five state-of-the-art student apartment complexes. He established the university as a leading international educational institution, and under his leadership, UB developed pioneering collaborative educational programs with universities in Poland, Cuba and Turkey.

He built a worldwide network of UB alumni, and fostered a new cultural presence of the university in the community, including the opening of the Center for the Arts. Greiner also spearheaded UB's drive to Division I athletics and oversaw the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university history.

Greiner will be remembered as much for his engaging, hands-on administrative style, and tireless advocacy on behalf of UB as for his long list accomplishments. He was known as the quintessential university citizen and he cherished his role as professor and mentor.

View slideshow highlighting the career of William R. Greiner.

"The entire University at Buffalo family today mourns the loss of one of our most beloved members, and we send our sincere condolences to Carol and the Greiner family," said UB President John B. Simpson, who praised Greiner's many accomplishments and his passionate commitment to UB.

"Bill Greiner had a profound effect on every aspect of this institution, from academics and research, to student life and our engagement with our alumni and the community. His vision and leadership made UB the outstanding institution it is today," Simpson said.

Simpson pointed to Greiner's extraordinary ability to inspire support for UB. "He was a gifted leader with an abiding belief in the university," Simpson said, "His devotion made others want to dedicate themselves to making UB the best it could become. We will miss him greatly."

When asked a few months ago about the proudest accomplishment of his distinguished career at UB, Greiner told the UB Reporter: "It is the people and careers I was able to help over the course of these many years, at the university and in the community. I'm most proud of the people we were able to advance. I helped recruit some of them and hold on to some of them, and I'm very proud of that."

News of Greiner's death brought an outpouring of expressions of admiration and appreciation from UB and SUNY leaders.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher offered her sympathy to the Greiner family. "This is a great loss to all who knew him and learned from him throughout his career."

"Professor Greiner was recently named President Emeritus of the University at Buffalo by the State University of New York Board of Trustees, and we are so grateful to have had the opportunity to bestow such an honor upon him," Zimpher added.

"It was a privilege to call him a member of the SUNY family, as his work had a positive impact on so many of our faculty, staff, students and alumni in Buffalo and across New York. Whether it was pushing UB into NCAA Division I sports, leading major construction projects that would change the face of the campus, expanding the university's research footprint, or effectively raising the funds necessary to keep UB strong, SUNY will continue to benefit from his tremendous legacy."

UB Council Chair Jeremy M. Jacobs said, "It has been a great privilege and honor to count Bill as a close friend and important advisor, both to me personally and to UB. I had the privilege of working with Bill throughout his long and successful career at UB and during his retirement where he continued his active support of UB and the community.

"He was a visionary leader, who was committed to excellence and possessed an unwavering dedication to the people of the university and of the region. Because of his efforts, the University at Buffalo took its place as one of the nation's best research-intensive public universities. Its national acclaim and achievements were results of Bill's vision.  He had an ambitious plan and saw it through with courage and conviction, just as he approached each and every aspect of his life. I admire him as a friend and for all that he accomplished during his lifetime."

UB Provost Satish K. Tripathi said Greiner's accomplishments are living legacies.

"Looking across the University at Buffalo's academic and physical landscapes, one can truly appreciate the indelible mark that President Emeritus Greiner had on our university," Tripathi said.

"During his 42-year tenure at UB, he transformed our university in so many lasting and meaningful ways. His body of work has enabled us, as a university community, to be among the finest public research universities in the nation.

"We owe so much of our success and future successes to UB's 13th president," he said. "He will be greatly missed, but, quite rightly, his legacy will endure."

Makau W. Mutua, SUNY Distinguished Professor and dean of the UB Law School, said the Law School has lost an invaluable ally and advisor. Greiner's ability and willingness to mentor "countless" law students was typical of his "loyalty and selfless service" to the Law School and UB, Mutua said.

"He loved the law. His name is fondly remembered by UB Law alumni throughout the country," Mutua said. "The Law School, university and community are all better because of Professor Greiner's commitment and passion."

A native of Meriden, Conn., Greiner received a BA in economics from Wesleyan University and a MA in economics, JD and LLM degrees in law, all from Yale University. He joined the UB law faculty in 1967, serving as chair of the Legal Studies Program from 1968-70, associate provost of the Law School from 1970-75 and associate dean of the Law School from 1975-80. From there, he moved into university-wide administrative positions as associate vice president for academic affairs from 1980-83 and as interim vice president for academic affairs from 1983-84. He became UB's first provost -- its chief academic officer -- in 1984, serving for seven years until his appointment as the university's 13th president in 1991.

During Greiner's presidency, UB conducted the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university and SUNY history, "The Campaign for UB: Generation to Generation," which raised $291.6 million. The university also returned to athletic competition at the NCAA's Division I level and moved to Division I-A football, increased its cultural impact with the opening of the Center for the Arts and the donation of the UB Anderson Gallery, and reaffirmed its commitment to public service by establishing an Office of Public Service and Urban Affairs. During his tenure, the College of Arts and Sciences was reconstituted and the School of Public Health and Health Professions was established.

Greiner also oversaw the expansion of instructional and research space on the North and South campuses with construction of the Natural Sciences Complex, the Mathematics Building, the Biomedical Education and Research buildings, and additions to the School of Management and MCEER.

Greiner worked to persuade SUNY to adopt policy changes that benefitted UB and other campuses. He oversaw the UB-led initiative that allowed all SUNY campuses to manage their own earned tuition revenue from student enrollments, and was credited with discovering an obscure state law that permitted alumni organizations to build dormitories using private funding -- which led to the construction of apartment-style living units for more than 2,100 UB students, as well as those at other SUNY campuses.

After stepping down as president five years ago, Greiner taught courses in the UB Law School and the Graduate School of Education, and continued his practice of counseling countless faculty, administrators and students who have gone on to make their own contributions to the university.

An accomplished academic, he authored "The Nature and Function of Law, "a seminal legal textbook still in use today. Last year, he published the thought-provoking book "Location, Location, Location," which chronicles the factors leading to the construction of UB's North Campus and debunks the urban legend that the decision to build in Amherst, rather than in Buffalo, was made for dubious or politically short-sighted reasons.

Greiner was the recipient of UB's highest award, the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, given for service to the university and the region. In awarding the medal to Greiner at the May 2003 commencement ceremony, UB Council Chair Jacobs said that Greiner's "outstanding leadership has ensured UB's place among the nation's best public research universities, and his passionate advocacy for Buffalo Niagara has led directly to increased opportunities for greater regional economic development."

In 2004, UB established the William R. Greiner Scholarship Fund in his honor. Nils Olsen, former law school dean, has said the reason Greiner received this honor highlighted one of his greatest priorities during his tenure as provost, president and professor: UB students.

Greiner is survived by his wife, the former Carol Morrissey; a daughter, Susan Keenan of Buffalo; three sons, Kevin of Florida, and Terrence and Daniel, both of Buffalo, and 13 grandchildren.

Media Contact Information

John Della Contrada
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