$10 million Fairbanks Foundation grant set to improve science facilities

Butler University received a $10 million grant from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Inc. as a gift to support the growth and expansion of the school’s science programs.
The gift—which will be delivered in increasing increments over a five-year period—will launch discussion and planning for the future renovation and construction of science facilities in Gallahue Hall and the Holcomb Building.
“Gallahue Hall has been a workhorse of a building for 40 years,” said Jay Howard, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean. “It’s done its job well, but it’s now 40 years out of date from what is really the most contemporary and appropriate sort of science facility.”
With a greater influx of science majors in recent years, the department is struggling to accommodate students. While the department strives to preserve smaller class sizes on a pedagogical level, select courses require larger lecture halls in order to satisfy the rising number of science majors in both existing and emerging programs.
“There aren’t very many classrooms that seat 50 or more students in Gallahue Hall,” said Carmen Salsbury, associate professor and biological studies chair. “When you’re having to compete with chemistry, physics and pharmacy for those spaces, there’s not room for another science (field) to have big class sizes.
“We’re not really interested in moving to large classes across the board, but we do need a facility that’s more flexible in that regard.”
Despite the growth in numbers of Butler science majors, the number of faculty members in the science department has remained stagnant in recent years.
Salsbury said the lack of space to house new faculty has contributed to this, and renovations to Gallahue and Holcomb will allow for further growth with regard to staffing and expansion in terms of research space and science technology.
“One of the things we do well here and have done well in the past is faculty-student research outside of the classroom,” Salsbury said. “Our facility totally constricts us in this way as well because it’s hard to find the space to work with more students when you just don’t have the lab space to do it.”
While $10 million is a significant amount to work with, the university will require further fundraising and donations in order to fully realize the development of science programs alone.
Howard said this donation will help get the ball rolling for renovation and expansion. It will allow time for more intensive planning and more donors to recognize and support the program.
“Building buildings always takes longer than you think it’s going to take,” Howard said. “With President (Jim) Danko’s strategic initiatives and discussions about the strategic directions of the university, we have to fit the growth of the sciences in the total context of the master plan.”
Though the grant is meant for the development of the sciences exclusively, all students will be able to reap the benefits in some capacity. As Butler offers a liberal arts education, students must at the very least take some sort of science course during their time at the institution.
“The expansion of the sciences will have an impact on all students at Butler,” Provost Kathryn Morris said. “The new and enhanced facilities will provide better instructional spaces and facilities for students enrolled in core curriculum classes. “
The grant marks an important milestone for Butler, as it is the largest grant received in recent years.
Howard said companies are viewing Butler as an importer of marketable talent in Indiana, especially with regard to the sciences.
The program’s partnerships with organizations such as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama­—as well as the strong growth of programs like physics and astronomy—has garnered attention and opportunities, Howard said, that boost the need for comparatively competitive facilities on campus.
“We think we’re delivering one of the finest undergraduate science educations in the state, if not the very best,” Howard said. “These kinds of opportunities are driving demand for the sciences. We need to make sure that our facilities are of the same quality as our faculty and our students.”
While the grant is not an instant solution, it is an important first step that will set the university on a track for success.
“We have a trajectory of success, but that success is going to level out if we can’t make sure that our facilities are of the same quality as our faculty and our students,” Howard said. “It’s not that Gallahue is a bad building, it’s just an old building. It needs a significant renovation in order to continue to be a good tool in teaching and learning in sciences.”