In September, 1969, President Martin L. Meyerson of the State University of New York at Buffalo announced that he was taking a two-thirds leave from the university for the forthcoming academic year, in order to become director of the American Assembly on Goals and Governance of the University—a new task force that had just been established by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the end of the year, Meyerson would resume his full responsibility as president of the university; while during it he would continue to assume responsibility for long-range planning of the university’s development and to reside—as in fact he has done—in Buffalo. Daily operations would, however, be directed by the then Executive Vice President Peter F. Regan, a psychiatrist and former dean of the School of Medicine, who would serve as acting president and locum tenens for the academic year 1969-1970.
The announcement of this decision—deferred as it had been till the very beginning of the academic year—gave rise to extensive rumors that President Meyerson was planning to leave permanently. These rumors were promptly and repeatedly denied as they recurred throughout the fall semester. The university community had, in any case, grown accustomed to them, since Mr. Meyerson was reported to be under serious consideration for every major university presidency that had become available, beginning with Columbia. If so, he had accepted none of them; and there were good reasons for thinking—apart from his own statements—that his commitment to SUNY at Buffalo might be deep.
As president, his job was difficult. During his first year at Buffalo—the academic year 1966-67—he had been viciously harassed. The Buffalo populace and press had reviled him as a leftist refugee from Berkeley and, after Leslie Fiedler’s celebrated pot-bust in April, 1967, a condoner of immorality and of the corruption of youth. An organization with the inimitable title of MAM, or Mothers Against Meyerson, was formed to campaign for his removal; while the more conservative members of the Buffalo Common Council—the municipal governing board—attacked Meyerson and the university at meeting after meeting of the Council, urging legislative investigation of the university. The strain and hazards of President Meyerson’s position were clearly so great that even the climatic and cultural advantages of life in the Queen City—as Buffalo is called, with no implication of gaiety—could scarcely be expected to compensate.
Nevertheless, he had not only remained but was succeeding in making the university an interesting and promising school, with a national reputation for high academic quality and intellectual excitement. The University of Buffalo, during its 120 years as a private institution, had few claims to eminence. It is true that it shares with Princeton and Columbia Universities the otherwise unique distinction of having had as its president a man who also became President of the United States—indeed, at one time the Buffalo president held both offices simultaneously—but Millard Fillmore was hardly comparable to Woodrow …