The 2020-2021 academic year was unlike any other, but Butler University faculty and staff stepped up, adapted, and collaborated to prioritize safety while continuing to serve students and positively impact the community.
“I am here today to report that the state of our University is strong,” President James Danko said during his State of the University address Friday. “Yes, we have our challenges, but our University is well positioned for the disruption occurring in higher education.”
On September 10, Butler community members gathered at the Schrott Center to celebrate all the University has accomplished despite the year’s obstacles. Danko also shared progress made toward goals established in the Butler Beyond strategic direction and highlighted priorities for the coming year.
After Danko provided examples of the many ways faculty shifted to new modes of teaching and research during the pandemic, Professor and Chair of the Department of Dance Larry Attaway narrated a personal account of his experience leading a Dance program while COVID-19 often prevented studio access or limited in-person spectators at performances. As several students joined him on stage (dancing six feet apart), Attaway described how students began the fall 2020 semester rehearsing from remote, makeshift “studios.” Livestreamed dance performances received viewers from 19 countries over the past year.
Outside the classroom, Butler staff worked long hours to provide an on-campus college experience. Danko thanked teams from Health Services, Student Affairs, and across the University who helped develop and implement health protocols, as well as support students through new initiatives—including a student food pantry, an anti-racism symposium, and increased mental health resources.
Danko went on to highlight Butler’s consistently excellent student outcomes, with the Class of 2020 achieving a 97 percent placement rate within one year despite the pandemic’s toll on the job market. He also praised the cross-campus efforts involved with hosting 16 games of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, as well as the accomplishments of the Butler Blue Live Mascot Program, which was featured in an episode of Netflix’s Dogs earlier this year.
These successes from students, faculty, staff, and alumni have been nationally recognized, with The Princeton Review recently naming Butler a top college and U.S. News & World Report ranking Butler as the No. 1 Regional University in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Butler’s reputation is also reflected in its enrollment, Danko said: This fall, the University welcomed the third-largest and most diverse class in its history.
Betsy Weatherly, Senior Executive Director for Advancement and Director of Campaigns, announced during the event that the University has received nearly $240 million in gifts and commitments toward its Butler Beyond fundraising campaign, thanking those who have donated and calling on all Bulldogs to support the campaign goal of raising $250 million by May 2022.
Moving forward, the University will continue its focus on ensuring that all deserving students have access to a Butler education. Danko highlighted recently established articulation agreements that create pathways from Ivy Tech to Butler, and he also celebrated the nearly $13 million in grants from the Lilly Endowment that will fund the exploration of new educational models.
Even while facing pandemic-related financial challenges and broader changes in higher education, Danko said Butler has been working for the last decade to elevate the University’s prominence and improve campus facilities—such as the state-of-the-art building housing the Lacy School of Business that was officially named on Friday in honor of Bill and Joanne Dugan, the ongoing renovation and expansion of Butler’s Sciences Complex, and the upcoming Butler Esports Park. In addition to strengthening Butler’s traditional educational model, Danko explained, the University is committed to establishing itself as a leader in the development of new approaches that serve a wider variety of learners.
“Innovation is a strength of ours and critical to our future as we work to meet the changing needs of students,” he said. “And we must continue to push the boundaries on who, how, and where we educate—providing access to those who desire and deserve a Butler education.”
A central part of this work is Butler’s strategic priority to create an intentionally diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus community.
“We must remain deeply committed to our founding mission as we strive for a world in which rights and opportunities are equally afforded to all people. And we still have much work to do,” Danko said. He provided an update on progress in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging that has occurred on campus over the past year, including an increase in staffing and the development of the Hub for Black Affairs and Community Engagement.
“As a community, we must respect, listen to, and learn from the knowledge and experiences of others who are different from us,” Danko said. “Those among us who have not directly suffered from hate speech or racism can have an equal capacity for compassion, a hunger for social justice, a desire to understand, and an ability to effectively lead.”
Among the challenges the University is currently facing, Danko listed financial concerns at the top of the list. He said that the surplus Butler reported at the end of the 2021 fiscal year was due in large part to reduced expenses associated with the pandemic, a hiring freeze, and $3 million in Federal Cares money. He further warned of the looming 14 percent drop in 18-year-olds on the horizon, which he expects will negatively impact traditional undergraduate tuition revenue. He also noted that the University’s discount rate on undergraduate tuition has increased in recent years, a trend that negatively impacts tuition revenue and isn’t likely to be reversed anytime soon.
“Concerns about the full-time undergraduate model are legitimate,” Danko said. “And it is for that reason that we’ve focused considerable attention and investment over the past 10 years on improving our campus and elevating the prominence of Butler. We need to ensure students view Butler as among the best when it comes to what has been our traditional focus—undergraduate residential education.”
The community also heard from student Marcos Navarro-Garcia, who shared his gratitude for opportunities to meet his Butler family through the Efroymson Diversity Center and to help lead this year’s Dawg Days pre-orientation program for students of diverse backgrounds. Later, Alumni Award recipient Dr. Warren Morgan ’06 spoke about what his Butler experience meant to him. Now the Chief Academic Officer for Indianapolis Public Schools, Morgan said Butler taught him the concept of servant leadership and the importance of serving all individuals, shaping the leader he is today.