Campus News

Barbas brings historian’s skills to Baldy Center


Published August 20, 2019

headshot of Samantha Barbas.
“Buffalo Law has a very long tradition of being a center of interdisciplinary scholarship. That is part of our identity, this intellectual scholarly production. ”
Samantha Barbas, professor of law and director
Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy

The Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, the School of Law’s signature vehicle for interdisciplinary scholarship, is moving forward from last year’s 40th anniversary celebration with a new director.

Samantha Barbas, professor of law, has been named to lead the center during the next chapter of its history. Barbas succeeds Errol Meidinger, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor in the law school, who led the center for the past nine years until his recent retirement.

“Buffalo Law has a very long tradition of being a center of interdisciplinary scholarship,” Barbas explains. “That is part of our identity, this intellectual scholarly production.”

The new director embodies the Baldy Center’s philosophy that the insights of other scholarly disciplines can shed new light on issues in the law. A specialist in legal history, Barbas has particular interest and expertise in First Amendment and mass communications law, and has written three books on media law and history. In addition to a JD from Stanford Law School, she earned a PhD in American history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Intellectual cross-pollination is what the Baldy Center is all about. Established in 1978 with a bequest by Buffalo attorney Christopher Baldy, a 1910 graduate of the law school, the center provides a fertile working environment through invited speakers, discussions of works in progress, symposia and workshops, as well as a grant program that funds research by legal scholars in residence. Barbas received a research grant for the 2018-19 academic year to support her work on a biography of civil liberties pioneer Morris Ernst, and has received several previous grants through the Baldy Center.

As she settles into her new role, Barbas says she expects the center to continue to benefit from the participation of academics across the university in the arts and sciences. The center's Advisory Council includes not only law professors, but scholars in geography, sociology and political science. She says would like to see its range expand further into other disciplines in the humanities, including history.

She also hopes to engage more students. “That’s something I would like to work on, finding a way to get students more involved and perhaps inviting them to workshops,” Barbas says. In the works is a symposium planned for next spring, with the expectation that the student-edited Buffalo Law Review will publish some of the papers presented at the event.

In addition, Barbas says, she’s thinking about reaching out to the broader community with more public lectures by well-known intellectuals.

A short-term goal is to extend the Baldy Center’s visibility, among other things, by connecting with interested parties on social media. “There’s a lot going on at the Baldy Center that people in the law school and at other law schools don’t know about,” she says.

But at its heart, the mission of the center will remain: to help legal scholars make connections that inform their thinking and their work. “When you bring people together, whether it’s in workshops or on our Advisory Committee, you make friendships,” Barbas says, “and that’s the basis for great scholarship.”