Vice President Kamala Harris visited North Campus Wednesday afternoon, touring solar panel fields, delivering a 13-minute speech in the Center for the Arts and meeting with select students and administrative officials.
Harris’ visit marked the first time a sitting U.S. vice president had set foot on either of UB’s campuses. Joe Biden delivered a speech in Alumni Arena in 2018, but he was not in office at the time. Sitting U.S. Presidents Millard Fillmore and Barack Obama spoke on campus in 1853 and 2013, respectively, according to UB spokesperson John DellaContrada.
Harris came to UB to tout one of the Biden administration’s signature legislative achievements, the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last month. Her speech was not open to most students or the general public.
UB planned the event in 2-3 days without “too much notice,” UB President Satish Tripathi told The Spectrum.
Air Force 2 touched down at Buffalo Niagara International Airport at about 11:35 a.m. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown greeted Harris on the tarmac.
The vice-presidential motorcade proceeded along closed-off roads directly to North Campus, where Harris toured the solar panel array with Architecture School Dean Rob Shibley and two UB students. A UB alum also gave Harris a brief tour of the GRoW Clean Energy Center, an “energy-efficient demonstration home” built by architecture students for a national competition.
Harris then progressed past police blockades along Millersport Highway to privately meet with university officials and eight students who were nominated by faculty members. The students, who either majored in environmental fields or worked with UB Sustainability, shook hands with the vice president, introduced themselves and took a group photo.
“It was really stressful,” Sydney Gallo, a senior environmental engineer who attended the meet and greet, said. “She was so nice. She was so sweet. She had a very genuine way about her, and you could tell she actually cared about what you were saying, even though I was stressed and rambling.”
All eight students were supposed to fully introduce themselves to the vice president, but only three did after the meet and greet was cut short.
Amy Bentley, a junior environmental science major who attended the meet and greet, said she was “kind of sad” that she didn’t get a chance to speak directly with Harris but that the experience was still “surreal.”
Tripathi, Brown, NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Energy David Turk and UB MPH/MBA student Srikrithi Krishnan all spoke briefly before Harris took to the temporary stage in the main hall of the Center for the Arts.
Harris delivered her speech to about 100 audience members in white folding chairs. Audience members included UB Provost A. Scott Weber, Vice President for Student Life Brian Hamluk, other UB administrators and several members of the UB Council, an “oversight and advisory body” for the university.
Harris spent much of her speech touting the clean energy provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act and held up UB’s solar arrays as an example of what the act’s federal funds will help create across the country.
“All of this will lower electricity costs and reduce emissions,” she said. “It will also create millions of good paying jobs. Jobs for STEM students like those I met with today who will design the next generation of clean energy technology. And jobs for all the people who will build and install and repair our clean energy infrastructure.”
Harris reiterated that she and Biden are “counting on” the next generation of students to lead the clean energy movement.
“You are reminding us of the potential of our future, and in that way you are inspiring us,” Harris said. “So the next time you’re up late studying in the Capen Library… know that we stand with you, and we’re so proud of you.”
An hour and a half after the speech, Harris stepped outside for just under a minute to address the hundreds of students packed against metal security barricades and police officers outside the front entrance to the CFA. She told them to “please lead,” which many students heard as “please leave.” Harris then re-entered the building to leave through the back door, leaving the crowd to disperse.
Harris departed North Campus for the airport shortly thereafter and boarded Air Force 2 by 4 p.m.
Students and members of the public were able to watch the speech via live stream, but some students felt that the lack of student access wasn’t worth shutting down traffic on some parts of campus.
“Traffic and building closures were a huge hassle which I know caused many students to be late to their classes, forced them to take long routes, or miss events in CFA,” Fen Stanczyk, a sophomore environmental studies major, told The Spectrum over Instagram. “Seeing the strain that this visit put on students, especially during prime class hours, I personally couldn’t help but feel irritated that students were not invited or able to buy tickets to the VP’s speech… Students were heavily inconvenienced by the VP’s arrival yet not allowed to participate.”
The Inflation Reduction Act will invest hundreds of billions of dollars in programs meant to address climate change, raise the minimum tax on corporations, lower prescription drug costs for those with Medicare and reduce the deficit, among other provisions, according to The Hill. It is not likely to have “any impact” on inflation, especially not in the short-term, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a nonpartisan research organization affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.
Grant Ashley is the managing editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Grant Ashley is the managing editor at The Spectrum. He is a political science and (mediocre) Spanish double major. He enjoys taking long bike rides, baking with his parents’ ingredients and recreating Bob Ross paintings in crayon. He can be found on Twitter @Grantrashley.