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Samuel P. Capen



Grace Capen (left) and Samuel Capen (right) arriving in Buffalo, 1922

Image ID: UA_30H_2

Grace and Samuel Capen arriving in Buffalo, 1922

When the UB Council began their search for a full-time chancellor, Samuel P. Capen was high on their list of potential candidates.  However, when the Council consulted with leaders of other colleges and universities about the names on the list, almost unanimously, they were told not to bother interviewing Samuel Capen for the position. Though eminently qualified, he had recently turned down similar offers from two universities and it was commonly thought that he was committed to his work with the American Council on Education.


Undiscouraged, the UB Council invited Capen to visit UB to discuss the university's problems and goals.  Unaware that the Council was interested in offering him the chancellorship, Capen advised the Council as he had the leaders of many other colleges and universities.  He told the UB Council they should look for someone who would find the job a "challenge and fascinating prospect."  


John Lord O'Brian, chair of the UB Council's search committee, subsequently met with Capen in his Washington D.C. office and informed him of the Council's unanimous decision to offer him the chancellorship of UB.  According to O'Brian, the Council agreed that Capen would have authority over the university's "educational policies, the hiring of faculty, internal discipline and all other phases of university management."  In effect, the University Council was willing to set aside the previous 75 years of university history and virtually start over.


Capen was genuinely astonished by the offer but knew that it was a rare opportunity for a leadership position.  He later recalled "My friends advised me not to accept the offer but to me it was the most interesting prospect, for an administrative post, in the United States.  The possibilities of this institution in a territory of 1,000,000 people fascinated me and I still find it fascinating."  Capen was encouraged by UB's progress toward change, especially the grassroots nature of the successful 1920 Endowment Campaign.  O'Brian would add "As Dr. Capen later told us on many occasions, it was this challenge and this opportunity for pioneering in educational theory that moved him..."  


Just the same, Samuel Capen had a number of conditions for accepting the job:

  1. Complete academic freedom for UB's faculty and students.  This was a central tenet of Capen's educational philosophy.
  2. That he not be responsible for fundraising.
  3. As his duties allowed, he would be able to continue his work in the field of higher education.
  4. That the duration of the position be long-term or open ended so his policies could be enacted with great care.


  • "Ceremony will honor Dr. Capen." Courier Express, November 11, 1942.
  • John Lord O'Brian as interviewed by Shonnie Finnegan (transcript), July 10, 1968, 1.1, 2-1-350, John Lord O'Brian Miscellanea, 1913-1974.
  • Letter, Samuel P. Capen to John Lord O'Brian, June 15, 1922, 1.15, 2-1-10, The Walter Platt Cooke papers, 1916-1930.
  • Memorandum Re. Invitation to Dr. Samuel P. Capen from John Lord O'Brian to Julian Park, September 25, 1956, 5.6, 15-2-119 Julian Park papers. 1834-1962.
  • "Mr. Capen." The Reporter, November 10, 1977.
  • Park, Julian.  "Samuel P. Capen, 1878-1958." University of Buffalo Studies, v.24, no.1, October 1957.
  • "Retiring Dr. Capen Reviews His 28 Years as Chancellor of U.B." Buffalo Evening News, August 23, 1950.