Archie L. Buffkins
Archie Lee Buffkins was chancellor of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from 1971 to 1975, bringing with him a passion for the performing arts and a belief in cultural diversity.
A native of Memphis, Tenn., Buffkins’ first love was music.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Jackson (Miss.) State University and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University in New York, all in music and music education. Buffkins also did advanced studies at the Chicago Conservatory of Music.
He was a professor or head of music departments at Jackson State, Rhode Island College, Texas Southern University in Houston, Kentucky State University and Morristown (Tenn.) College before coming to Princess Anne. He replaced Howard Emery Wright, who was appointed acting chancellor following John Taylor Williams’ retirement in 1970.
When Buffkins became UMES' top administrator on June 1, 1971, he made it clear that turning the university into a “first-rate, multi-racial institution” was his goal.
That view was reinforced in his obituary published in The Baltimore Sun, which quoted him as saying in speeches that “The American society is, without a doubt, multi-racial. Therefore, the future of higher education must become multi-racial or it will not be relevant to and for the people.”
On the job at UMES less than a year, Buffkins found himself facing open rebellion from students, faculty and others. A wire service dispatch reported an April 1972 campus protest attracted 100 demonstrators. Some UMES students held placards declaring “Archie Must Go.”
The issue “is the direction of this institution under my leadership”, the Associated Press article quoted Buffkins as saying. Protests on American college campuses, which got their start during the 1960s, continued to be commonplace in the early 1970s.
In 1973, Buffkins came out in support of developing cooperative programs with Salisbury (State), a four-year college 10½ miles north of Princess Anne, to address criticism the two public institutions were duplicating instruction.
His knowledge of and interest in music and the arts proved beneficial to UMES. The $1.6 million Ella Fitzgerald Center for the Performing Arts (PAC) was completed on his watch. The legendary jazz vocalist attended the building's 1974 dedication ceremony.
The "PAC" would attract marquee entertainers to campus, including the National and Washington ballet troupes, actors Peter Nero, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, poet Maya Angelou, opera star Patrice Munsel and jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
Buffkins’ management style made him a polarizing figure, but he found support from the state-sanctioned Cox Commission report released in the summer of 1974 that commended his efforts in “establishing this campus as a showcase multi-racial university.”
Despite that endorsement, he resigned from UMES effective July 1, 1975, moving on to be assistant dean for graduate studies at the University of Maryland College Park. In that capacity, he founded and convened the inaugural National Think Tank on Blacks in Predominantly White College and Universities to address challenges posed by attracting more blacks to those campuses.
He also worked to increase the presence of African-Americans in major performing arts institutions and was a television broadcasting executive.
When he died at age 68 on Oct. 3, 2002, he was a member of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland governing board. The following year, executors of Buffkins' estate established a graduate education scholarship at UMES in his name.
-- GAIL STEPHENS