President Jim Danko has imagined some possibilities of his own for Butler University after completing his first year as the university’s 21st president—and he expects “dramatic plans” for improvement to start next year.
On the horizon for Butler, Danko said, is sorting through funding challenges, beefing up enrollment for undergraduate and graduate programs, making major investments in student facilities and dorms and encouraging strategic-thinking academic colleges.
And that’s just the beginning. Danko already is looking ahead to the Butler of 2025.
“It’s an emerging picture,” Danko said. “I do have a vision. I see this shining university on a canal.”
The university currently is 87 percent dependent on tuition. Generating funds through new programs, increasing the enrollment and growing the $150 million endowment pose unique challenges, but Danko said he is excited to work on them.
He said when he accepted the job, he was not naïve to the university’s financial situation, but it became more apparent once he arrived.
“The reality once you’re here is more stark than I expected,” Danko said. “Our low endowment puts us at a real disadvantage relative to the types of schools that people expect us to be like.”
When the Board of Trustees arrives in May, a goal will be to come up with a plan for growth in the university’s enrollment, Danko said, as well as to identify new programs.
Enrollment could grow by 10 to 20 percent, he said. New programs that have been suggested include an expanded physician’s assistant program, as it currently has about 1,000 applicants for 50 spots, as well as a full-time master’s of business administration program.
“We’ve asked each of the colleges to think about a creative opportunity in their areas to help us grow,” Danko said. “It could even be a non-degree program.”
The current Campus Master Plan identifies student housing as a top priority for improvement. Danko said he echoes the importance of making these improvements.
“We have people walking into dorms that haven’t been touched in 30 years, and there’s not even enough outlets for people to plug in the electronics they bring to campus,” Danko said. “We have fallen woefully behind other schools that have made that a priority, and it means something.”
Additional soft space and the ongoing renovations to Atherton Union are also part of Danko’s vision.
Although money isn’t exactly lying around, he said now is the time to start thinking of creative ways to afford improvements, including potentially borrowing money or working with developers who might absorb some of the cost.
Danko said one of the most exciting parts about his job is getting the colleges and their faculty to think outside the box.
“The theme of this year was to think of programs that have not existed before,” Danko said. “One of the reasons I was brought here is to raise our standards.”
The university’s newest college, the College of Communication,
may get a boost in funding, although Danko said it is important that no college receives favoritism.
“Like any good father that’s got six children, I need to be an equal-opportunity provider,” Danko said. “But I’m not naïve to the fact that our youngest college probably needs more nourishing than the other colleges.”
Danko said the first investment was hiring the first permanent dean, Gary Edgerton, who will be coming to Butler from Old Dominion University.
Keeping the college competitive is a high priority for Danko. This includes investing in internships.
“If we’re going to do CCOM right, if we’re going to be competitive, we’re going to need to make some investments,” Danko said. “We can’t keep it status quo.”
The relationships that Danko created this year both inside the Butler community, in Indianapolis and across the country with alumni have been imperative, he said.
“You need people’s support as you move forward,” Danko said. “Part of that is getting to know people on a personal level.”
As he looks forward, Danko said he’s learned many lessons during his first year, including one that other university presidents warned him about when he first started at Butler.
“You have far more demands on your time and far more requests than you can reasonably meet,” Danko said. “But I have a high energy level, so I thrive on that.”