Former Butler University President Bobby Fong, who presided over a period of enrollment growth and national renown at the Indianapolis school, has died.
Fong, 64, passed away Monday morning due to natural causes, according to officials at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where Fong became president in 2011.
“Dr. Fong’s decade of service as our university’s twentieth president forever changed Butler for the better, and we are deeply grateful for his legacy of excellence,” said Butler President James Danko on Monday. “During his tenure, he led major initiatives that strengthened Butler’s academics, campus infrastructure, and stewardship.”
Fong joined Butler as its president 2001. At the time, the school enrolled about 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students. It enrolled about 4,000 when he left, and graduation rates had increased from 62 percent to 73 percent.
During his tenure, Fong restored financial equilibrium to Butler’s budget process and started an eight-year streak of surplus budgets beginning in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.
In 2009, the school completed a six-year fundraising campaign, raising $154 million for scholarships, programs and facilities—almost $30 million more than the public goal.
Fong also latched onto a long-term plan at the university for making basketball its national calling card. That effort culminated in 2010 and 2011 with two consecutive trips to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game. Butler lost a 61-59 squeaker to Duke University in 2010 and the University of Connecticut, 53-41, in 2011.
Despite the losses, Butler's improbable repeat appearance in the title game helped propel the program into the Atlantic 10 conference in 2012 and then the Big East in 2013.
In 2010, Fong was featured in IBJ's "Leading Questions" video series. The two videos from the in-depth interview are below.
The son of Chinese immigrants, the Harvard-educated Fong was among a small percentage of Asian American college presidents in the U.S. He began his academic career at Berea College in Kentucky, where he taught from 1978-1989. He gained administrative experience as a national fellow and assistant program director for the Association of American Colleges in Washington, D.C.
After serving as professor of English and Dean of Arts and Humanities at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, from 1989-1995, Fong accepted a position as Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, from whence he accepted the Butler presidency in 2001.
At Butler, Fong championed improved campus-community relationships, more experiential-learning opportunities, equitable employee compensation, and active recruitment of minority students and faculty. He considered Butler’s invitation to establish a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2010, and the increase in the University’s graduation rate from 62 percent to 73 percent over the decade, as two significant highlights of his term.
Fong is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and their sons Jonathan and Nicholas. Details on services for Fong and Butler memorial remembrances will be forthcoming, according to the university