[We salute Ed Powell, who passed April, 2001, and who is and will be sorely missed by his many friends, especially those outside the White House.]


Wednesday. May 1, 1996

By David Forton, Managing Editor
************************* UB Sociology Professor Ed Powell listens as students debate during his Sociology of War class Tuesday afternoon in Baldy Hall. Powell, 70, will take a 15-month sabbatical at the conclusion of this semester. ************************************

Despite a memo headlined. "CONTEMPLATED SABOTAGE AT WRIGHT PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE OHIO." the FBI's 65-page file on Elwin H. "Ed" Powell is essentially innocuous:

"A review of the 1969-70 faculty and Staff Directory for the State University of New York at Buffalo on June 27, 1970 reveals that subject (Powell) is an associate professor of Sociological Science . . .

"Source One advised in March 5. 1965. that subject, while teaching his Sociology of War and Peace class at SUNYAB a few days previously told his students that the United States government would do almost anything to accomplish its aims, including the initiating of a world war."

"Source Three advised that on May 11, 1965, subject was actively promoting among students at SUNYAB opposition to the United States policy regarding Vietnam ...

"Source Five advised that subject participated in a demonstration on October 15, 1965, in downtown Buffalo, New York, sponsored by SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and opposing the Vietnam War.

And so, the FBI file on Powell -- who is still a UB sociology professor -- continues, on and on, and on: "Source Seven advised that subject attended a meeting of SDS (1966)... Source Eight advised that subject participated in n demonstration Lafayette Square (1967). Source 10 advised that subject continues to reside at 124 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo. NY (1970)

The professor's FBI record which was made public after winning a 1976 courtroom battle with local law enforcement authorities that attracted front page attention in the Courier Express -- Buffalo's major daily newspaper at the time -- is simply an accurate chronicle, of the first 15 years of his involvement in a 30-year peace project, he says.

In a draft of "Choosing Peace/Making Trouble: A Project in Participatory Sociology, 1960-1990" -- one of three books he will be working on during a 15 month sabbatical beginning at the end of this semester, Powell, now 70, writes:

"Where hut in America could the ideas of an ordinary college professor be considered important enough to record in a government file? Noting I was the ostensible Leader of (the Buffalo Committee for a SANE (Nuclear Policy) in 1961. The Buffalo FBI requested permission of the Washington Office to make "a discrete investigation ... to ascertain if POWELL constitutes any present danger to the best interests of the United States

Regarding the alleged "sabotage" at the Ohio Air Force Base, Powell, who will reduce his class load at UB to one class per semester when he returns to the university in the fall of 1997, says sabotage may be too strong a word.

"I never contemplated physical sabotage, but in 1972 was openly trying to subvert the war effort. asking military personnel, from the Secretary of Defense on down., to leak secrets to the public."


Unlike the documented FBI surveillance. his desire to right societies wrongs didn't end in 1971. On campus or in Washington. D.C.. Powell -- who earned bachelor's and master`s degrees from the University at Texas and a doctorate from Tulane University in 1954 -continued to educate agitate and organize through the rest of the '70's and '80's

And in the 1990's, in facT, he was seen this year at many of the University Council meetings with his student and good friend, Michael Pierce, and at nearly all of the student-sponsored protests, where he offered support, signed petitions or just relished the sight of students fighting for a cause.

And he was there Tuesday afternoon in Capen Hall participating in the Student Association-sponsored classroom Walkout, which turned into UB's largest student protest on campus in 10 years.

Twenty-five years after the FBI surveillance ceased, Powell, probably no loss or threat to the United States Government. is now the elder statesman of political activism at UB -- a prominent voice and sagacious counselor on campus.

Today, 38 years after he was hired by the University of Buffalo, Powell's bushy beard and full head of unruly hair are now nearly all white. His six foot-three frame, adorned with an outfit identical to the one he's described as wearing in a December 1977 issue of The Spectrum -- "a dashiki and blue jeans" -- is towering.

His classes also mirror the 1970's more like "teach-ins," they are essentially 'bull sessions in which students develop their minds through expressing and debating ideas, Powell says. Class handouts -- or leaflets -- play a big part in Powell's classes. In fact, the counter on his personal Xerox machine tells its own tale: He has created nearly a million leaflets mostly letters written by him that he circulates through the students in his classes or at political gatherings, to anyone who will take them.

The leaflets -- such as the ones he passed around his classes in 1976 explaining why he was voting for the Socialist Workers Party candidate for president that year -- are often controversial. But there is method to Powell's perceived madness -- more than to just raise eyebrows. Powell's leafleting has a deeper goal, to provoke thought among the students in an effort to get them to question, question, question

The major requirement for his classes is the writing of an autobiographical "Book" a process that guides students, he says, into an understanding of society through the discovery of themselves.

He says his classes are an antidote to the mainstream teaching of` sociology, where students arc forced to .. memorize useless and inaccurate names and check blanks on an examination and come out with no understanding of sociology."

Like his teaching style, his political views are, well, not within the Mainstream. The FBI calls him t "utopian idealist." And with that he doesn't argue. Except to add that he is also an "anarco-communist, like Jesus and Buddha and Alexander Berkman." All those quirky characteristics. coupled with his frequent references to the "regenerating qualities" of' LSD and "magic" mushrooms, take him, some students and professors believe, over the edge


As he relaxes in an emptying lecture hall just an especially sparked classroom debate Powell pauses often to chuckle during a afternoon interview. His of serenity offsets the Yang of political urgency so prevalent just minutes ago in a "lecture" to his last Sociology of War class

It's here, in the now dead quiet of the Kiva Room in Baldy Hall, where the describes the true origins of his activism.

"When I was in high school I had a transforming experience with a teacher who turned me on to a world of ideas," recalls Powell. "We began with the eight parts of speech and moved to his explaining the atomic theory of the universe.

"This was an epiphany -- a spiritual experience where my world kind of fell into place. It was a discovery of the joy of knowing --1 was quite literally intoxicated.

"I started getting turned on to new ideas and then a friend said, 'If you're going to amount to anything as an intellectual, you'll have to take a course In Latin,"' a subject area not taught at his Plainview, Texas, high school, Powell said.

"So what I did was go out and get my friends to sign a petition that said these students would take a Latin course if it was offered. It was the first time I made a demand on a school when I was at war with the institution.

It was a war he won.

The Plainview High School principal decided to take Powell and his friends up on their offer and created the Latin course. To top it off, the class was taught by the very teacher who ignited the intellectual I flame that still burns within Powell.

"1 think that experience was crucial. I had the feeling from that point on that I was in control of my education."

"Since then, Powell's theory on education - "If you don't use the university, the university will use -- abuse -- you" -- hasn't wavered.

But it's just that philosophy that at times has gotten him in hot water -- the most scalding of which may have been a 12 day lock-up In the Wende Correctional Facility in 1982. The sentence stemmed from several arrests in connection with the protesting of the closing of the Squire Hall Student Union on the South Campus, the place where starry-eyed UB students planned sit-ins, Vietnam War protests and revolutions during the '60s and '70s. At the time of the scheduled closing there were no plans to provide students with an alternative place to congregate out- side of class.

On the day of his first arrest - in typical Powell style - he was spotted: distributing leaflets outlining his plans for the evening.

"I intend to be arrested tonight for refusing to·leave the premises of Squire Hall," the leaflet boldly proclaims. "The closing of Squire is an assault on the spiritual foundation of the university. In the classroom ideas are professed, n Squire they are generated.

"Here we can speak as friends and move beyond the formal roles of teacher and student Squire Hall as a Student Union is vital to the mission of the university, which is to promote the life and growth of the mind."

He calls his 12 days in the pen a "great experience. In a journal he kept while there, which was eventually published in the December 1983 issue of Alternative Press, a local leftist publication -- Power wrote: "I once thought prisons should be abolished. Now, I would even recommend more prisons, if they could be like Wende. So many or my colleagues would benefit by a bit of time here."

The 'genuine article'

Without ever doubting Powell's devotion to effecting social change, some may quibble with the self-description in his book "Choosing Peace." For some reason, "ordinary college professor" doesn't seem to capture his essence.

"Eccentric" is more apt but not the ephemeral kind seen so often on college campuses, says Donald Sabo, a professor of sociology at D'Youville College and a student of Powell's in the 1970s.

"There are two kinds of eccentrics -- fakes and genuine eccentrics," contends Sabo, also an adjunct professor at UB and co-author of five books on gender studies in sports. "Ed is the genuine article, he's always strived to be in sync with his values and beliefs."

But Powell's non-conformist nature shouldn't be overshadowed by his ability to guide students into reaching their intellectual potential, Sabo said, especially in the areas of developing quality writing. In addition, Powell's refusal to succumb to societal stereotypes made him an especially significant influence on Sabo's life.

"I am a former defensive football captain ac UB, and Ed Is one of the first professors who really gave mc credit for having a good mind," said Sabo. "For whatever reason, he was able to see through the 'dumb jock' label. He helped me get my foot in the door of an area In which I eventually excelled."

During his nearly four decades as a full professor at UB, Powell said he was never pressured to change his teaching style.

"I've never felt any constraints -- there have never been any suggestions from any one (within the UB administration) that I should be censured or restrained," said Powell. "I had a sense of freedom at this university that my colleagues at other universities did not have.'

This freedom, along with a genuine love of teaching, is why Powell prefers not to sever his sacred ties to UB with retirement. "The University at Buffalo and the State University of New York System are mine like a church is to others," he said Tuesday.

"I really don't feel my relationship with the university is changing in any fundamental way."