Villanova’s James Danko to be Butler University’s 21st President

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James Danko will succeed Bobby Fong as Butler University’s 21st President.

Board of Trustees Vice Chair Craig Fenneman made the announcement at 2 p.m. today in the Reilly Room on behalf of board President John Hargrove, concluding a six-month nationwide search that was kept largely under wraps.

“[Danko] has proven successes in areas important to the Butler community: recruitment and retention of excellent faculty, service to students, strategic planning, fundraising, consensus-building and curricular innovation,” Hargrove said.

Danko comes from Villanova University, where he has served as the dean of the School of Business since 2005.
Under his tenure, the Villanova’s business school has gone from unranked to a consistent top 20-ranked program in the country. He has quadrupled financial giving to the school and grown faculty. Application numbers to the school of business have doubled under Danko, allowing for more selectivity.

Prior to his work at Villanova, Danko has held leadership roles at the Tuck School at Dartmouth, the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Before working in academia, he spent nearly 20 years as an entrepreneur, starting his first company—Exercare Corporation—at the age of 19 in Cleveland, his hometown. What started as a surgical supply company in 1973 grew to include home and corporate fitness equipment, exercise rehabilitation and orthopedic products by the time Danko sold the company in 1990.

Danko and his wife Bethanie will move to campus this summer following Fong’s May 31 departure for Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa.

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Danko sat down with The Collegian after he was named president. Here is an excerpt of the conversation.

The Butler Collegian: What drew you to Butler?

JD: There’s so much at Butler that’s consistent with my background in the world of academics—the competent approach to education and having strong liberal arts but also strong professional programs. The more I did my homework on Butler, I saw a lot of positive attributes, such as the community service aspect. The things students do here extend beyond the classroom. What comes across every time you hear about Butler and look at the things that are happening is how engaged the faculty is in the education of the students and the students’ passion for the institution. As a president, you want to be in a place that has a background consistent with your own beliefs and approaches to education, but also want to be a place that people are passionate about. That sense of passion really came across.

BC: How will you address the challenges of growing student body and the heightened notoriety of the university?

JD: I certainly don’t worry that that’s going to be an insurmountable issue. Having such interest in Butler and gaining that notoriety through the basketball program and getting more applications allows us to make some choices. That’s the advantage to that sort of thing, but you’ve got to make quality choices at the end of the day. It’s going to take me a little time to calibrate that in terms of what is appropriate, and it depends on [which] parts of the university you’re looking at. You have to make sure that if there is growth happening, it isn’t happening at the risk of harming the quality or reputation or effectiveness of what’s happening in the classroom. It’s a good challenge to have. You want to be on this side of an institution that’s growing in a positive way in terms of its notoriety and interest.

BC: What is your vision for your time as president?

JD: [Butler University President Bobby Fong] certainly provides a good model. He was here for 10 years, and is it better off today than it was 10 years ago? Absolutely. That’s the way I would frame my own presidency. If we dial the clock forward 10 years, we want to make sure the place has built on that foundation that [Fong] has put in place. I would expect there would be even greater and greater recognition of the institution and that it continues to grow in dissensions that are important here. [I hope] students who are coming out of the program are getting the types of jobs they’re interested in, and they’re making an impact, and that the faculty are able to make an impact in their areas, so they’re thought leaders.

BC: Your background is mostly in business. How do you see yourself relating to students in other majors?

JD: I really do have to underscore the value the liberal arts have provided in my own educational background, having undergrad and graduate work in the liberal arts. I’ve always looked at business as being a nice marriage of the two. The skills that you get out of a more liberal arts education provide you a lot of skills that you need in terms of the analytical side, the creative problem solving side, the communicative side and the ability to make an argument. There are so many things that are so rich in the liberal arts education that I’ve always been a strong advocate, even when talking to my own children. There are some parents out there who are passionate about their sons and daughters having a strong professional degree, but I also think the path to success happens in multiple ways.

BC: What do you see as your role with students?

JD: I give [Fong] a lot of credit for the things that he’s done, like his weekly visits to Starbucks. I’ve tried to do the same in my own career. I’ve done town hall meetings where students are able to come to open forums to ask questions and provide input on things that are happening. I always make it a point to sit down and have lunch with groups of students on a regular basis. We sit down and have an open and honest discussion about things that are on their minds. A lot of those have underpinned changes that we’ve made in our curriculum or even in support that we provide to our students. I expect to do the same thing here.

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