Butler President James Danko talks a return to normal, diversity

ELLIE ALLEN | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | emallen2@butler.edu

As the fall 2021 semester begins, Butler University has started to return to normal operation. This transition back to normalcy is also met with the implementation of new projects and changes. To learn more about these changes and the administration’s vision for campus this year, Collegian Editor-in-Chief Ellie Allen met with Butler President James Danko.

Returning to normal

Last spring, Danko announced it was his hope that this fall students would be returning to a normal semester with in person classes at full capacity. Now, as classes begin and the more infectious Delta variant is leading to more COVID-19 cases, it is uncertain whether normal can be achieved. 

However, Danko said it is still his goal to return to pre-COVID-19 operation this semester. 

“We have to adapt to the situation as it evolves, but I do see that being on campus and having human interaction is incredibly valuable,” Danko said. “Even as I just walked across campus from my presentations, I probably talked to three or four people who I haven’t seen in a while.” 

COVID-19 restrictions

Since Monday, Aug. 9, masks have been required in indoor spaces on campus even for those who are fully vaccinated. This decision came in response to the surge of cases due to the Delta variant. 

In terms of potentially implementing more COVID-19 restrictions, Danko said many decisions are reactionary, and due to the nature of the virus, it is difficult to predict what might be necessary to keep campus safe.

“I think the situation has taught us that it’s hard to say this week what kind of plans you might be happy with 30 days from now,” Danko said. “My hope is that we react aggressively. That allows us to get into a more relaxed position as we move forward.”

While Marion County is at just under 50% of the population being fully vaccinated, Butler University has a vaccination rate among students of 85% as of Aug. 6. However, Danko said since students and faculty still interact with the surrounding community, Butler cannot be treated as a complete bubble able to make decisions based on only its vaccination rate. 

Danko said decisions about campus will be made collaboratively by complying with county restrictions and recommendations. 

“It’s encouraging that, you know, I think we’re getting close to [a 90% vaccination rate] and that’s what our expectation is,” Danko said. “That’s encouraging because it does allow us to feel that we can keep this virus at a distance, or not have large outbreaks of it, but regardless, we still have to be aware of what’s happening in our own county and even in our own state.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Another area of change on campus is in the Diversity Center. The positions of associate director and coordinator were meant to be filled last spring, but after the resignation of executive director, Gina Forrest, the Diversity Center was in a unique position to restructure. 

Turnover in the Diversity Center over the last few years has led to multiple positions changing or going unfilled. Danko said the vacancies and the evolving situation in the Diversity Center presents an opportunity to address structuring issues and to hire people who are the best fit for the roles.

“We need to be thoughtful about how we knit this together,” Danko said. “My big thing from my position as president is … I want more resources flowing toward this. I want there to be a very disciplined and aggressive approach to hiring the best people possible.”

Last year on Juneteenth, Danko announced that part of his efforts to improve anti-racism on campus would include evaluating the Butler University Police Department, BUPD. This led to a review of BUPD by a group of students, faculty and alumni. The purpose of the review is to evaluate the role of BUPD on campus and to gauge opinions from the community on Butler’s policing. The report is in its final stages, and Danko expects to receive it in the next few weeks. 

After that point, Danko and other administrators will determine if any potential changes to BUPD are necessary. 

Danko said the goal is to make sure BUPD is best positioned to be a resource to students and to determine if some services should instead be provided by mental health professionals. 

“I mean the bottom line is that we’re appropriately using BUPD on campus to ensure the health, safety and well being of all community members, and we’re particularly mindful of the impact that police force have on individuals of color and LGBTQ+ students and so forth, so I’m anxious to get their report,” Danko said. “I know that they’ve worked on it for quite a while, but I also know they’ve been quite thoughtful in their approach.”

Acclimating to campus

The return to campus also brings the unique situation of two Butler classes that have never experienced the university as it typically operates. The class of 2025 and the class of 2024 are both experiencing a more normal Butler semester for the first time.

Danko’s advice to these students, especially the class of 2024, is to put themselves out there and get involved on campus.

“I feel badly about the fact that there is a group of students that started Butler in a way unlike any other,” Danko said. “I also think that because they have been somewhat acclimated, they’re going to be driven by their own interest, but I think it might be important that all students and returning students might have to be a little bit more aggressive on doing some outreach and getting more actively engaged to the extent that they can.”

The Butler Collegian will continue to follow and report on these topics. 

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