THE 1980s were the Sample Decade at the University at Buffalo, a decade during which this giant campus of the State University of New York spread its wings, deepened its roots in this community and gained national prominence.
The creativity of the decade involved work by lots of different people. Central to the growth, however, was the rare combination of vision, energy and organizational talents consistently displayed by President Steven B. Sample.
Sample's resignation to accept the presidency of the University of Southern California comes at a time of change and sobering challenge. It sounds trite, but it is quite accurate to say that Sample's leadership, after he leaves in March, will be deeply missed and difficult to replace.
The chairman of the USC board of trustees underscored that when he said of Sample: "Look at his track record in Buffalo. It's been absolutely spectacular."
Sample has not been without his critics here, one charge being that he has slighted the role of teaching. But there can be little doubt of his substantial accomplishment.
He brought change and innovation to numerous academic and related areas. A productive money-raiser, he oversaw the first capital fund-raising campaign by any public university in New York State. He broadened contacts with the Western New York community, built strong bridges to business leaders, pushed UB toward Division I athletics and assisted local efforts to attract and operate the Empire Games and the World University Games.
UB's huge construction program, well under way when Sample arrived in March 1982, has continued apace. Current con
struction and that planned to start soon total $120 million.
But the core of Sample's vision was the goal of making UB one of the nation's top 10 public research universities by the turn of the century. It once seemed an audacious idea, but Sample had the crucial ability to say "Why not?" and to get others thinking that way, too.
While UB has not gotten to the top 10 yet, it has pursued the goal diligently and made great progress toward it.
Funds for research have mushroomed. Among many grants, UB won $25 million from the National Science Foundation to establish the national center for Earthquake Engineering Research. UB last year was admitted to the elite Association of American Universities, a group of 58 schools with fine research programs.
With Sample leaving, the UB Council must attract the best successor it can find -- not an easy chore considering urgent problems he or she will face, starting with financial constraints imposed by scarce state budget funds.
The Council, in its search for the next UB president, must insist on high standards. Sample's successor should demonstrate both a convincing vision and the deft skills required to manage diverse constituencies -- from state budget-makers and legislators to SUNY trustees, faculty and student bodies and leaders in the local community.
Sample's success is that he managed the pursuit of his purposeful vision, along with all the organizational, financial and human challenges it called forth, with an uncommon verve and intelligence. That success leaves the university much stronger today than when he arrived.