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Fall 2013: Dean’s Blog

E-Bruce-Pitman11On June 18, 1913, the Council of the University agreed to offer courses of Latin, English, German, French, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Mechanical Drawing, starting that Fall. The Council also appointed a committee of five to report on the possibility of organizing an Arts and Sciences College.  In February 1914, it was agreed to continue the previous courses and to add a few more, but no decision was made as to the establishment of a College. In the meantime, the College grew to have 31 full- and part-time faculty members and serve more than 600 students. On January 16, 1915, the Council decided to form a College. The availability of a building at Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo made it easier to reach this decision. Courses were offered in the 1915-16 school year under the auspices of the College. A year later, financial stability was provided through a gift from the new Seymour H. Knox Foundation.

It was five years before the College was authorized to grant degrees by the State Education Department and accredited by the Middle States Association. The first graduating class of the College of Arts and Sciences, consisting of 3 students, received their degrees on June 11th, 1920.

Over the next 50 years there were changes in the administration of the College, even as the University of Buffalo was taken over and transformed into one campus of the State University of New York. But the fundamental structure did not change until 1967, when the College of Arts and Sciences was abolished and its departments incorporated into three Faculties — Arts and Letters, Social Sciences and Administration, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics. In 1998 these faculties were merged and the College of Arts and Sciences was recreated.

Thus the College is celebrating 100 years of excellence in teaching, research, and service, even as we look toward the 20th anniversary of the current incarnation of the school.

Throughout the last century, the College has been the heart of liberal arts and science education and scholarship at UB. From visits by Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Spock and Martin Luther King, Jr., to a performance by the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the arrival of the “Thallus of Marchantia”, the University and the College have changed, grown, and thrived.

Recovering from the financial difficulties of the last five years, today the College begins its second century healthy and poised for new achievements. Last year our planning efforts were brought together in CAS@20, which provides a map for progress. Several recommendations from CAS@20 have been implemented, and planning is underway to implement other items. This fall brings 23 new faculty members to campus, and we look to hire more than 30 by next year. Our faculty members are being recognized with prizes and awards, as the join their illustrious forebearers like Leslie Fiedler, Morton Feldman, Robert Creeley, Harvey Breverman, Ronald Coase, and John Barth.

Even as we celebrate our achievements, continued progress demands that we set high expectations for ourselves. We look for greater research and scholarly achievements, further awards and prizes, and increased research expenditures. We look to enhance our students’ understanding of the world as they go on to careers in business, the arts, science, and politics. We look to working closely with our neighbors, to bring the intellectual vibrancy of our university and the enthusiasm of our students to help improve the communities around us.

It is a hard thing to do, to take an unflinchingly objective look at ourselves and acknowledge where we are good and where we fall short. And making the changes necessary to remedy those shortfalls is just as difficult. Fortunes have been made (and lost) by companies able to make such changes (or not).

During the summer articles appeared, talking about the cost of attending college, student debt and the prospects for employment for new graduates. President Obama’s visit to UB underscored all these issues as he set out a plan to hold institutions of higher education accountable in terms of costs, debt and student success.  For us in the College, those discussions can be difficult. We are not a professional school, training students for a specific career.  But by providing experiences beyond the classroom we can provide our students the opportunity to explore their interests and discover a path for themselves.

When my friends ask me about the employment prospects for our graduates I tell them that our graduates can look at the world in a variety of ways, think differently about problems, and express themselves effectively. Those attributes make our students attractive job candidates.  And that ability to think and communicate is the best education one could have as our alumni take a second and third and fourth job, as they advance in their careers.

As we begin the second hundred years, we remain committed to exceptional teaching, scholarship and service, as the College takes its place among the best arts and sciences divisions in the country.