‘White Only’ art project, Heights and medical school hot topics at first UB Council meeting


Some of UB’s biggest decision makers spent Wednesday morning discussing some of the larger issues facing the university – from the controversial “White Only” art project to the high number of student arrests in the University Heights.

The UB Council, the primary oversight and advisory body to UB, held its first meeting of the fall semester to review the downtown medical campus construction, the recent art project and concerns within the Heights neighborhood.

President Satish Tripathi addressed the recent controversy over graduate fine arts student Ashley Powell’s art project. Powell hung signs reading “White Only” and “Black Only” around campus as part of a class project two weeks ago. The signs caused fear and outrage among the student body, with some fearing it was a hate crime. The Student Association and Black Student Union (BSU) held a special forum last week to discuss the signs.

“As president, I am committed to ensuring our university community remains a safe, welcoming, inclusive open space,” Tripathi said. “As a public university we are also a part of the fabric of surroundings.”

Many students questioned Tripathi’s absence from the forum and that the president had yet to release a statement on the matter a week after the events. Tripathi released a statement to The Spectrum the next day addressing the signs and explaining he was travelling to Albany for a SUNY presidents meeting the night of the forum.

Tripathi said he had a very productive meeting with student leadership members from SA, BSU and other concerned groups last week.

The art project has been “very delicate” on the faculty’s minds the past few weeks, according to Tripathi. He said there must be balance between artistic freedom and students’ safety and inclusion.

“As an academic community, we are always seeking to understand the boundaries around academic freedom and freedom of expression [and] exploring a particular topic from a diverse point of view is part of why we are an academic community,” Tripathi said, “but at the same time it is critical that we do so in a safe, inclusive environment in which all of our students and other members of the community feel respected.”

Tripathi said the topic was an important conversation to be had, but was by no means an easy one.

Tripathi also addressed concerns with student behavior in the Heights. Prior to this past weekend, 57 students had gone through Judicial Affairs for partying in the neighborhood off South Campus, with UB suspending 23 of them.

“We continue to take a number of steps to address these concerns, including working to ensure our students understand their responsibility as students and recognize the implications of their behavior,” Tripathi said.

Buffalo police have cracked down on parties in the neighborhood after increased media attention this fall and years of resident complaints. University Police only intervene with Heights house parties if Buffalo police ask and refer arrested and ticketed students to Judicial Affairs.

Tripathi said the university would continue conducting visits to off-campus houses and assess UB policies and programs, including the UB Stampede buses and public safety. He also said the university will meet with the University Heights Collaborative to respond to community members’ concerns and ensure an open line of communication.

Jeremy Jacobs, UB Council chairman, expressed gratitude Wednesday to the council for naming the new medical school after him. Jacobs donated $30 million to the school that will now be named the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The school and UB’s new downtown medical campus will officially open in 2017.

“This is truly an inspiring time for our university,” Tripathi said. “Building on the lifetime philosophy of university and the college community, the Jacobs family’s $30 million gift to the medical school will have a tremendous impact, allowing us to build even further.”

Michael E. Cain, vice president of health sciences and dean of the medical school, said the school has an ambitious strategic plan.

Cain said the university needs to “build a new school, purchase new equipment, build programs for research and medical care and education and continue to recruit the best faculty and leaders in academic medicine.”

“The gift and naming of the school is greatly and positively impacted [and] we will continue to fulfill our mission and our goals,” Cain said. “The naming of the school really is the ultimate statement of commitment to the institution and the university and in this case the School of Medicine.”

The medical school’s gift campaign, which has a $200 million goal, is currently at $160 million. Cain said the remaining $40 million is very important but the school is well on its way to getting the funds.

Tripathi said the medical school is looking to prepare students to be global leaders in their fields.

He said the school “aims to take students to the next level to the evolution of UB’s committees of excellence,” and he looks to do so by “ensuring students are connected through the research enterprise.”

Ashley Inkumsah is a news desk editor and can be reached at ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com.