Butler Universty President Jim Danko wants to understand the university as it is before he envisions its future.
In his “State of the University” address Friday, he said, “It’s no longer OK to do what you’ve been doing all along and hope students come along…it’s more competitive.”
Closing out his time as dean of the school of business at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Danko has visited Butler every month since April, meeting with the vice presidents, deans, trustees, students, alumni, professors and community partners to discuss what that next step might entail. “My plan during these first months is to do a lot of listening,” he said. “You don’t want to jump to any uninformed conclusions or uninformed decisions.”
The first thing that struck Danko about the school was its sense of community. He said everyone takes Butler and its future personally, and he wants to draw on that environment of pride and ownership.
“It gives you the energy and support that you need to accomplish things,” he said. “It’s not that everyone thinks it’s perfect, but the passion for the place is what really jumps out at me.”
He said he sees his tasks varying day to day, but his main role is being the face of the university and representing it well to a variety of people.
“A president, for better or worse, personifies the institution,” he said.
Transitioning from being dean of a college to president of a university also presents Danko with a broader set of issues and responsibilities.
He said he will have to expand his scope of leadership to work with a larger and more diverse institution—an opportunity he said he embraces.
“I really enjoy the challenge of knowing I’m in a position where I could hopefully positively impact a larger organization, a larger group of people,” he said. “Because I do view leadership as a stewardship responsibility.
“You’re not doing it for your own ego.”
Kevin Clark, who served as senior associate dean of the school of business under Danko at Villanova, described Danko as a competitive person and a “results-oriented” leader who was active in both the business school and the greater university.
Clark said Danko likes to gather as much information as possible before implementing change—a method Clark said Danko will carry over to Butler.
“I would expect him to be talking to people and doing intel for the first 100 days or so,” Clark said. “But he won’t wait long after that to begin a plan.”
One of Danko’s greatest strengths, Clark said, is that he can take what he learns from listening and meeting with all levels in a school or university and then communicate its value and strengths to people both in the institution and the greater community.
“He’s adept at coming into a place and meeting with people and then articulating to others what makes it distinctive,” he said.
Clark said that while Danko worked to promote the positive aspects of the school and find ways to offset its weaknesses, he also put forth a more long-sighted plan. Part of that involved bringing in more resources.
“Some leaders want to find a way to divide the pie differently,” he said. “But he looks at growing the pie.”
Another aspect of building for the long-term is cultivating faculty and staff, which is something Clark said Danko does in an effective yet distinct way.
“He’s not a mentor in that he’ll spend a lot of time with you,” he said. “But he develops his people.”
Doug Spaniol, a professor of music and vice chair of faculty senate, said Danko met with faculty senate officers soon after arriving at Butler—something Spaniol said set a good tone. Spaniol said he also expects the faculty senate and professors to have a good working relationship with him.
“He doesn’t come off as a top-down leader,” Spaniol said. “He seems good at building relationships both internally and externally in the community.”
Katie Palmer, a sophomore international studies and international business major, said what she noticed most about Danko was his enthusiasm and how approachable he is.
“He doesn’t seem like a typical president,” she said. “He comes off more as my best friend’s dad.”
Palmer, who is also a committee coordinator on the Council on Presidential Affairs, said Danko will take an active role with CPA but promote student ownership of the group.
“He wants to make sure that students and faculty are directing the process instead of giving us bullet points or things he wants done,” she said.
Eric Shoemaker, a senior chemistry major and staff assistant in Ross Hall, agreed, saying Danko has already met with resident assistants, taking questions and addressing concerns. Shoemaker said he sees Danko taking a larger role with residence life staff and students as a whole.
“I wish I would be here longer to see what he’ll do,” Shoemaker said.
Danko said he hopes any changes he makes will have led to stronger academics, a better connection between Butler and its alumni and community partners and a positive impact on individual students and faculty.
“My job is to be a steward of this university,” he said. “I have to look back in 10 years and say that I’ve left the university in not just a better position, but a much better position than what I found it.
“I want alumni to say at the end of the day that the value of their degrees increased.”