Faculty Hope to Restore Common Meeting Place
The Lee Road project, which promises to provide the communal environment many believe has long been missing from North Campus, may also become home to UB's Campus Club, a long-standing but little known gathering place for UB's faculty and professional staff.
For a period after its creation in 1953, UB's Faculty Club had around 700 active members who regularly met for lunch in South Campus' Beck Hall, invited guest speakers to monthly events and were greeted by a full-time receptionist seated outside the club. Professors at UB during that time remember the club as a unique incubator of both personal and professional partnerships.
"As a young faculty member, that's how I got to know people," said Peter Nickerson, director of the graduate pathology program and member of the club since his graduate studies. "It was also one of the better ways the faculty could find out who could work together on research projects."
"The faculty and professional staff think it's a part that's missing from the university," said Campus Club President Rosemary Mecca. "Even in our own departments, sometimes we don't know each other."
As with other long-standing traditions, the university's merger with the State University of New York system in 1962 brought changes to the club. SUNY regulations made having a meeting space set aside specifically for faculty an impossibility. The club was forced to move to a wing in what was then the Harriman Library, then to a Winspear Avenue location, and eventually to Goodyear Hall, where the club holds its functions today.
Some 10 years ago, with a dwindling membership of fewer than 100 members, the club changed its name to the Campus Club, to encourage both professional staff and alumni to join its ranks. Although the club's holiday gala and regular Tiffin Room lunches are well-attended, reliance on member dues - which have remained at $25 for over 25 years - along with a lack of a reserved space is what many faculty feel keep the club from its former glory.
"I think to have that kind of turnout again, you have to have that kind of place again," said William Baumer, philosophy professor and member of the club during its formative years.
Nickerson believes the club's function as the social center of South Campus was lost in the university's move to Amherst.
"Since the university moved from South to North many years ago, we've been asking the same question: how in the world do we recover?" said Nickerson. "We're still struggling to figure out, how do we meet one another, how do we form partnerships among the staff?"
According to Mecca, a questionnaire was sent out last March to 5,000 faculty members to gauge interest in the club. Nearly two-thirds of the responses indicated "they'd never heard that the club existed," she said.
Researching other SUNY universities, Mecca found that only a small number of campuses, including SUNY Stony Brook, had faculty clubs, and the majority of the existing clubs suffered from diminishing prominence similar to UB's.
"The main reason for the club is to have a place where faculty can meet, and bring guests to a decent facility to discuss things," said Mecca. "It used to be a common thing, but it just doesn't happen anymore . people are just rushed constantly."
Mecca hopes that with the planned construction of an Alumni House in the Lee Road project the club will finally find the funding and space it needs to become its own community again.
"The image of a true campus club is a self-supported area that's inside but separate from the university," said Mecca. "If they can engage in some kind of activity that's not offered by anybody else, they'll want to join."