JULIAN WYLLIE | Columnist
President James Danko may not want to admit this, but he is a businessman.
Should students be worried or concerned, frightened or skeptical?
Yes, they should, but not for reasons that you think.
Students should question if Butler’s leader is considering their opinions when the university decides to make drastic changes.
In 10 to 15 years, Danko wants students to look back and believe their degrees are more prestigious and nationally recognized.
“We need to make sure that we are up there with the other well-known, residential, private universities,” Danko said.
Danko said that elite class of universities includes Georgetown, Wake Forest and Villanova.
Achieving this will not be easy, and students will experience growing pains as the university continues to make changes.
I think there will be inconveniences when new construction breaks ground in the coming months. I expect the cost of attending Butler University will also have to rise to fund any additions to campus.
Danko also spoke with me about his plans to match the increased demand in student housing.
“Our housing is nowhere near what I think is acceptable for a university that wants to claim national stature—we’re probably going to have to build a building behind Schwitzer Hall and eventually think about probably removing Schwitzer or Ross.” Danko said.
Clearly, these projects require a sound business and organizational background.
Danko said he does not look at Butler as a business. But he said his first steps as president were to create more investment through a program that he calls the “pre-capital campaign.”
“What I probably bring to the table is a sense of service, financial management, leadership and organizational improvement—but I don’t view education as a business,”Danko said, “Not at all.”
Danko said he is not a businessman, yet he thinks and acts like one.
And that is okay.
He is calculating and action oriented. He knew that he could only add more to campus by building a large stockpile of cash. Butler is his business, and I believe he is good at managing all things financial.
But has he shown enough interest in students’ everyday concerns? No, he hasn’t. Students are forgotten in the midst of change. He can do a lot more.
Different stakeholders compete for Danko’s attention. Aside from students, the stakeholders include alumni, faculty, the Board of Trustees, donors and the surrounding community.
Part of the problem is that students do not challenge Danko by voicing enough of their concerns.
“I don’t feel overwhelmed by requests from students. I’d be welcome to more. If a student isn’t seeing me, then they are probably not trying,” Danko said.
Danko said he is an open and accessible president and proceeded to list the various ways he can be reached. The shortlist included email, office hours, town hall discussions and social media.
In order to interview Danko, however, I got the sense that he was rather unavailable. It took multiple tries to schedule an interview with the president, and even then my time felt limited.
Students must test the claim that he is actively listening to their concerns, and Danko must destroy the barriers between his office and the student body.
His office is in Jordan Hall 101. Students should visit him when they can. Tweet him when necessary and encourage the Student Government Association to make sure that he is doing all he can to make Butler better.
The donors and the Board of Trustees have Danko’s ear.
The trustees are close to the president, and they have a centralized vision of how the university should grow.
For example, the trustees have continued to weigh in on a decision on whether or not to build a new parking garage.
“We had to solve a parking problem,” Danko said. “We talked about a parking garage and realized that this could be a $50-million building that would slow down our ability to build new housing.”
In hindsight, students do not seem to think the parking situation is fixed
“Was everyone going to be happy with the changes? No, it’s not perfect. We all wish we could park next to our office or our dorm,” Danko said.
Danko is right. The situation is not perfect. But it can still be much better than it is currently.
There are obvious inefficiencies in the parking system at Butler. Students need to have a voice all matters which directly affects their college experience.
I think Danko has recognized other students’ concerns.
He listed diversity, the independent versus Greek life divide and student health as most concerning.
Danko and the administration must ultimately do a better job of addressing the needs of students.
After all, our tuition means something, right?