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Published on January 14, 2003
Author:    STEPHEN WATSON - News Staff Reporter
© The Buffalo News Inc.

During 12 years as University at Buffalo president, William R. Greiner pushed forward a series of high-profile initiatives to boost the school's academics and student life.

Now, with Greiner announcing Monday that he will step down this summer, the question remains whether his successor will continue a spectrum of programs that deeply affect the region. UB Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi said she is interested in the president's job. She is considered the early favorite, but people on and off campus wonder if she shares Greiner's priorities.

"We're all eager and anxious about who will replace him," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the South Campus.

Under Greiner, UB saw the construction of hundreds of student apartments, along with an arts center and a Starbucks. Faculty brought in millions of dollars more in federal research awards.

But while the university's football team moved up to Division I-A and into a new stadium, it continues to lose. A $300 million high-tech bioinformatics center also was founded, part of a UB effort to boost the local economy, but any payoff from that is years away.

"I think the job Bill was doing is incomplete," said Lewis G. Mandell, a UB professor and former Management School dean.

Whatever course the next UB president follows will have a profound effect on the region. UB, with about 26,000 students and 5,400 full-time employees, has an estimated annual impact of $1.25 billion on the local economy, according to the university.

See Greiner Page A5
Greiner: Officials want to see
reinvention of South Campus
Continued from Page A1
Capaldi won't simply be handed the job. The UB Council first must conduct a search, then make a recommendation to the State University of New York board of trustees, which has the final say.

Greiner, in a message to the university community released Monday, said he's willing to stay on past his June 30 retirement date if requested to by SUNY Chancellor Robert L. King.

Capaldi, who took over as provost in July 2000, is considered the current front-runner and is believed to be close to UB Council members, the trustees and other Albany officials.

"I want to ensure that the progress we have going here continues," Capaldi said in explaining her interest in a promotion. She cited bioinformatics and finding commercial uses for UB research as examples.

In fact, Greiner himself was UB provost and the inside candidate in 1991, when he was selected to replace Steven B. Sample, who left the UB presidency for the University of Southern California.

Leaving 'a better place'

Greiner, 68, has served at UB for 35 years, since joining the Law School faculty in 1967. He held several administrative positions before being named UB's 13th president.

"As provost and president I have done my best to support and supplement the work of the UB family so that we might leave UB a better place for those (who) will follow," Greiner said in his message. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

He earned $205,000 in state salary during 2001-02, and he and his wife, Carol, live in a university-owned home in Eggertsville.

In 1991, Greiner took over a university that was on a roll, recently having won admission to the Association of American Universities, which includes the top research schools in the country.

Over the past 12 years, a period when the state paid a declining share of the school's budget, Greiner still found a way for UB to grow, supporters said.

The university has built five apartment complexes in the last five years, providing housing on the North Campus for 2,170 students. Under Greiner's watch, the Student Union, the Commons retail center -- now including a Starbucks -- the Center for the Arts and the new UB Stadium opened, though some of those projects began under Sample.

New science and mathematics buildings opened on the North Campus, and UB built a Center for Computational Research that today is the eighth most powerful academic supercomputer.

"In a physical sense, he has led the overwhelmingly successful efforts to expand the facilities of the university, at a time when that was not so easily done," said Arnold B. Gardner, who served 19 years as a SUNY trustee.

Unfinished business

But Greiner's biggest project, a proposed $300 million complex of housing, retail stores and service buildings on the North Campus, so far remains only an architect's dream.

"It's really too bad that he won't be here to see the finish of the capstone piece" of his efforts to bring a sense of community to the campus, Mandell said.

And Greiner's beloved UB Bulls football team, which moved up to Division I-A status on his watch, has struggled on the field and plays to sparse crowds.

"Just about the only thing Bill didn't accomplish is to produce a winning football team, and that hurts him," Gardner said.

Academically, UB has established several high-tech centers in an effort to focus on research that plays to the university's strengths or that has commercial applications. UB's centers in earthquake research, document analysis and, more recently, bioinformatics fit this bill.

His supporters praised Greiner's ability to work with lawmakers and business leaders.

"I think that he's been a dynamic force in Albany. Nothing happens with regard to SUNY without the University at Buffalo having some say in the outcome," said Hoyt, who has criticized UB's spending on athletics and North Campus construction.

He and local officials say Greiner turned his back on the South Campus and the University Heights neighborhood, spending more attention and money on the newer North Campus in Amherst.

"The real focus now should be on reinventing and re-establishing the South Campus as a major educational and economic engine that helps rebuild the neighborhood," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who nonetheless praised Greiner's work on bioinformatics.

Greiner has bristled at criticism that UB ignores its South Campus. "A decision was made 35 years ago to invest millions of dollars in building this campus" in Amherst, he said in a 2001 interview. "Once that happens, the die is cast."

Successor faces challenge

Whoever replaces Greiner will take over at a time when SUNY is likely to raise tuition for the first time in seven years and when university budgets are sure to be on the chopping block.

Can UB continue to support a top-level football program, hire the best new faculty and invest in its bioinformatics center, all during a period of budget cutbacks?

Money spent in one of those areas means less can be spent elsewhere in the university, Mandell noted.

But one professor pointed to Capaldi's ability to mine non-tuition sources of money, including fund-raising and licensing faculty research for commercial use.

"The provost is proactive. She's figured out how to generate more revenue, and I've never seen that before," said Dr. Peter A. Nickerson, a pathology professor and former chairman of UB's Faculty Senate.

And UB sports fans shouldn't give up hope, either. Capaldi, who came to UB from football powerhouse University of Florida, said she supports athletics.

The timing of Greiner's decision surprised many members of the university community. Given that such retirement announcements usually are made at the start of the fall semester, two faculty members said the timing suggests Greiner was nudged out of his job.

But Gordon R. Gross, a SUNY trustee, said Greiner had the support of the board and wasn't forced out at all.

Some UB faculty said it might be difficult to conduct an effective search for presidential candidates between now and June 30. SUNY may take Greiner up on his offer to stay on for a while longer if needed.

SUNY trustees have the option of naming an interim president -- presumably Capaldi -- to give them more time to search.

As for Greiner, once a successor is in place, he plans to return to the Law School as a professor.


News File Photo University at Buffalo President
William R. Greiner saw the building of five student apartment
complexes, the Center for the Arts and a new football stadium, as well
as a new Student Union and Commons retail center.
Elizabeth D. Capaldi , UB provost, would like to be named president
and is the early front-runner.

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