Trustees watch over university

It consists of 28 individuals from all walks of life. Many of them graduated from Butler University, although some received an education elsewhere.

Some of its members graduated in the 1950s, some in the 1990s. It includes men and women who majored in everything from accounting to zoology.

This is the Butler Board of Trustees.

The board is entrusted with planning the future of Butler, making financial and leadership decisions along the way.

“In sweeping terms, we promote the university and make sure it does well,” said  Craig Fenneman, board chair and 1971 Butler graduate. “The number one definition is hiring, supporting and evaluating the president.

“That’s our primary function—to make sure the president is successful.”

Fenneman is in his first full year as chair of the board. He follows John Hargrove, a 1969 Butler graduate and current board member who is a lawyer in Florida.

“These are turbulent times, and many boards have forsaken their responsibility,” said Hargrove, who is in his last year on the board. “At Butler, we have an effective board that is very committed. (Members) are focused on what is best for the university, and (the board is) not merely a group that fraternizes.”

The trustees meet four times each year. This year, the board is focusing on updating Butler’s strategic plan while also looking at the campus plan, said Jamie Phillippe, a board member, 1973 Butler graduate and The Chicago Community Trust vice president.

Phillippe said academic programs, facilities, finances and student enrollment are taken into account when looking at the strategic plan. The campus plan deals strictly with facilities.

Fenneman said the most important decision made by the board during his time as a member has likely been the selection of Jim Danko as Butler’s president.

“Once a president is in place, we’re there to support him, and I think the board did a good job to support (former-President) Bobby (Fong) when he was here,” Fenneman said.

Other important decisions made by the board surround investments made in the university, said Bryan Mills, board member and 1982 Ball State University graduate.

“(We need to decide) what we need to do for student housing and the student experience, but at the same time look at really basic issues like parking,” Mills said. “(We ask) what are some of the investments that need to be made to make sure students are achieving not only their academic goals but also the campus experience they’re looking for.”

Mills is one of six members of the board who never attended Butler as a student.

Ben Hunter, the president’s chief of staff, said the mixing of Butler alumni with local community leaders to form the board is a model that is used for trustee boards across the nation.

“You need a group of trustees that are looking out for the best long-term interests of this institution,” Hunter said. “I think we’re very lucky with the group of trustees we have.”

Mills, who is in his second year on the board, said he was surprised to learn Butler’s board had a mix of Butler alumni and individuals who never attended the university.

“I think it was pretty insightful from the board to construct itself that way,” Mills said. “If you only have Butler grads, you run the risk of being totally inwardly focused.”

Those on this year’s board ended up in their positions in a number of different ways.

Mills was told of an opening for a non-Butler alumni on the board, and he said he wanted to donate his time to an organization in the Indianapolis community.

Phillippe, who has been on the board for four years, was a former president of Butler’s alumni board, the head of Butler’s Louisville alumni organization and a member of the Board of Visitors for the College of Business.

Fenneman also ended up on the Board of Trustees through one of the Boards of Visitors.

These boards, although not directly connected with the Board of Trustees, assist the deans of Butler’s colleges with various decisions relating to their schools.

Fenneman said the Board of Trustees has attempted to become better connected with the Boards of Visitors.

“(We’ve attempted) some form of connection to know what’s going on and let them know who we are,” he said.

More concerning than the connection between these two parties is the link between the trustees and Butler’s campus.

All of the trustees have careers that do not allow them to be at Butler every day. Some of the board’s members live outside of Indiana as well.

While Fenneman said he is able to be on campus “once or twice a week,” other members are not as fortunate.

“Through good communications first and then dropping by and attending functions, the board stays pretty close to what’s happening at Butler,” he said.

Phillippe and Mills both credited Danko with keeping the board abreast of issues at Butler. The pair also cited The Collegian as a source for helping trustees understand the thoughts of students.

No matter how far some trustees are from Butler, they said they are constantly concerned about helping the university’s students.

“Being a trustee and being in any position of responsibility at a college is a very complex issue,” Hargrove said. “If you don’t understand that complexity—that diversity of cultures—you’re not going to understand contextually different problems and personality traits that make for a good institution.”

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