The future focus of the University at Buffalo was a subject of intense speculation Wednesday, following the announcement that Steven B. Sample will leave to head the University of Southern California.
The search for a successor to Sample, who will become USC president March 31, will begin immediately, with a short list of candidates expected by late spring.
Sample said he believed the greatest challenge his successor will face is forging a new relationship with state government.
"UB is no longer a state-supported institution," he said. "It is a state-assisted institution. And if UB has to increasingly generate its own revenue, it needs additional autonomy and authority to do that. That's the big challenge I see for the next president."
Sample, reached in Los Angeles after his appointment, said USC wanted him to start Jan. 1, but he persuaded the trustees of the private, 27,750-student university to let him remain in Buffalo long enough to get UB through the remainder of its fiscal year, which ends March 31.
That also will give the SUNY trustees time to name an interim president, he said.
USC trustees said they chose Sample because he seemed best suited to continue scholarly advances at the university, help improve the area surrounding the campus and meet the constant need for donations and grants.
"He has all the tickets academically, but he also has a very broad experience running a major university," said Forrest N. Shumway, chairman of USC's board of trustees. "Look at his track record in Buffalo. It's been absolutely spectacular."
Shumway and education officials around the country said Sample's biggest achievement was getting UB admitted last year to the Association of American Universities, a group of 58 schools with the most respected research programs.
Sample's salary, while not disclosed by trustees, is reported to be above $200,000 a year. His UB salary is $133,775.
Sample's departure was not a surprise, in light of occasional rumors that he was being considered for various presidential posts at other universities. But each time previously, Sample said he was interested in staying in Buffalo.
This time was different.
In a letter Wednesday to members of UB's academic community, Sample, 50, described his nine years at UB as "the most professionally rewarding experience of my life" and added that it would not be easy for him and his wife, Kathryn, to leave Buffalo.
The offer from USC, nonetheless, was one he could not turn down, Sample's letter said.
"Moreover," Sample said, "we believed that after nearly a decade of my stewardship, it would be invigorating and healthy for UB to recruit a new president with fresh ideas and a fresh perspective on the future."
Some sources suggested that Sample's replacement is not likely to come from UB and perhaps not even from the State University of New York.
"We'll keep an open mind," said M. Robert Koren, chairman of the UB Council and the man who will select the presidential search committee. "We're not pledged to anybody inside SUNY or inside Buffalo."
There also was speculation about the direction the university may take under a new president.
Will Sample's successor, for example, be as supportive of adjunct activities such as the 1993 World University Games and the pursuit of Division I athletics?
And will the new president pick up where Sample left off in his crusade to make UB one of the top 10 public research universities by the turn of the century?
One thing is certain. Whoever is chosen for the job will have to deal with tremendous budget pressures caused by the state's large deficit. SUNY employees statewide already face the prospect of unpaid furloughs to save money, and further cutbacks are anticipated in the next fiscal year.
Some suggested that the state's dire budget picture might hamper the search for Sample's successor.
"This is a very hard time to be looking for a president in the SUNY system," said George Hochfield, an English professor at UB. "All anyone would see is wrestling with the limits imposed on himself or herself for a long time."
Amid all the speculation about the future, many in the academic community took time Wednesday to reflect on Sample's tenure.
"Steve Sample is a quintessential leader," said SUNY Chancellor D. Bruce Johnstone, former president of Buffalo State College. "I can think of no university president in recent years, in SUNY or anywhere else, who has left a more proud and positive mark on his institution and his community."
Frederic B. Salerno, chairman of the SUNY board of trustees, also praised him: "The University at Buffalo's emergence into a world class educational institution is a living legacy to the leadership qualities of Dr. Sample."
Others, including those who sometimes tangled publicly with the Sample, also wished him well.
"He believed in the university," said John Boot, a former chairman of the UB Faculty Senate who sometimes was at odds with the administration. "He made us believe in ourselves and look a shade better than, in fact, perhaps, we are. Eighty percent of the time I agreed with him."
Boot and others sometimes differed with Sample on his emphasis on research dollars and image-making.
"What was chiefly wrong with him was the conventionality of his values," said Hochfield, a well-known Sample critic. "He brought with him the model of a big Midwestern school, which he tried to reproduce here."
The most egregious example of that model, Hochfield said, was Sample's goal of establishing a Division I sports program at UB. Some critics also were dismayed by the extent to which Sample got the university involved in adjunct community efforts -- "expensive follies such as the World University Games," Hochfield said.
Sample was involved in a surprising number of non-university efforts, according to Stanford Lipsey, publisher and president of The Buffalo News.
He noted that Sample was the only non-business member of the Group of 18 -- a group formed to provide leadership on issues of concern to the Buffalo community. Sample's opinion was sought on matters ranging from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's financial woes to the quality of hospital care in Western New York.
Burt Flickinger, chairman of the 1993 World University Games, recalled Sample's pivotal role in drumming up the initial enthusiasm that helped get the city's bid for the international sporting event off the ground.
"When you consider the significance of the university's role in the long-range economic and social well-being of Western New York, I believe Steve's aggressive and conceptual leadership has made a contribution from which we will all benefit for many years," said Lipsey, a member of the Group of 18.