Butler mounts unusual campaign: Students, not buildings, major emphasis of effort

Butler University President Bobby Fong’s collection of baseball memorabilia sparks almost as much enthusiasm from him as the capital campaign the college publicly unveiled last month.

The major difference of course is that the autographed bats and balls displayed in his office are far less valuable than the $125 million the college wants to raise by 2010. More than half the amount already has been procured from alumni and past donors during a silent phase that launched in late 2003.

Roughly a third of the money, or $42.5 million, will endow scholarships and fund annual operations support. About 60 percent of the 4,100 students attending the private institution receive some type of financial aid, Fong said, to help pay the $24,700 in annual tuition.

“We don’t want to make Butler inaccessible to students with talent but not the financial means,” he said. “The true foundations of a university are not found in its buildings but in its people.”

In that regard, the campaign dubbed ButlerRising veers from most fund-raising efforts that normally pay for building expansions, Fong said. Hans Giesecke, president of the locally based, 31-member Independent Colleges of Indiana, concurred.

“That’s particularly striking,” he said. “It really shows the focus Butler has on a very high-quality student body and a very highquality faculty.”

In addition, $34.4 million is earmarked for academic initiatives aimed at bolstering student-faculty research, for instance, and another $26.1 million that includes renovations to Clowes Memorial Hall and various athletic facilities. Construction is under way on a performance hall that is part of a new performing arts complex, as well as the conversion of the former fitness center in Atherton Union into a diversity center.

The $125 million campaign accounts for $22 million the university already has received from Lilly Endowment Inc. to create the Butler Business Accelerator within the College of Business Administration. Lawrence O’Connor, former Bank One of Indiana CEO, was hired in August to lead the endeavor that helps mature companies grow.

Although well regarded, Butler remains somewhat of a hidden gem, O’Connor said. In fact, in his address to faculty and staff this year, Fong said the “Butler bubble” term historically used to describe how the university insulates itself from the surrounding community no longer applies.

“Its importance is rising, and it needs to rise,” O’Connor said. “If you don’t go to Hinkle [Fieldhouse] or Clowes, you might never come over here and experience it. It’s important for Butler to stake its claim as one of the intellectual strong points and bastions of learning in central Indiana.”

Finances rebounding

The 56-year-old Fong came to Butler in 2001 from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., where he was an English professor and dean of faculty. He previously was an English professor and dean of the arts and humanities at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and an associate professor of English at Berea College in Kentucky.

At the time of his arrival, Butler was mired in a financial quagmire resulting in 12 consecutive years of budget deficits, despite a six-year capital campaign ending in 1994 that raised $75 million.

But by holding the line on spending and keeping entering freshmen class sizes at manageable rates, so as not to further strain resources, finances have rebounded like the Bulldogs men’s basketball team. The college has posted four years of slight surpluses, while the team again notched 20 wins last season after two sub-par years.

The current campaign coincides with a five-year strategy ratified by trustees in 2004. The long-range plan consists of nine initiatives and 34 recommendations that include a new core curriculum, more cultural programming and on-campus housing to encourage a residential atmosphere, and a commitment to diversity.

Construction finished in August on a $50 million project to build a student recreation center west of Hinkle Fieldhouse and student housing to the east. A growing student population prompted the need for another on-campus housing option. The new residential units consist of seven structures containing a total of 125 four-bedroom apartments.

The number of minority students and faculty is climbing as well, prompting the need for a diversity center. The amount of multicultural students has jumped from 7.3 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent this year, while the number of minority faculty members has risen from 10.9 percent to 15.1 percent during the same period.

Campaigns usually common

The capital campaign is just the third in the university’s 151-year history, a fact Fong finds hard to fathom, especially since Butler receives no state funding. To be sure, members of the Independent Colleges of Indiana are in fund-raising mode at any given time. Between seven and 10 currently are conducting campaigns, Giesecke said.

Colleges normally raise 40 percent to 60 percent of their goals during the silent phase before reaching out to a broader constituency, he said. Most fund-raising drives last seven to 10 years.

“Since our campuses do not receive any money from the state, it’s the only way they can rally the resources,” Giesecke said. “Everybody does them in cycles, and they typically start them within a year or two of a new regime.”

Indeed, Wong launched Butler’s effort two years after arriving and is confident the goal will be met. That’s predicated on recent history: The past three years have produced two of the best fund-raising years in the college’s history.

Fong’s vision for Butler is to be recognized someday as one of the top-10 comprehensive universities in the nation. It stands fifth among Midwest master’s programs, according to the 2007 U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“I’ve found this to be a wonderful and exhilarating experience,” Fong said of his tenure. “We’re taking a great university and making it stronger.”

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