Provost candidate Butler committed to stay at the UI

BY NINA EARNEST | APRIL 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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If P. Barry Butler is selected as the University of Iowa's permanent provost, he would make a commitment to stay in Iowa City, he said on Tuesday.

In fact, he's never applied for an outside job in his 26 years working at the UI.

Butler, a former engineering dean who is serving as interim provost, was the first of three finalists to interview for the position and hold a public forum. He has served as interim provost since Wallace Loh left the post in October 2010.

During the forum, Butler addressed the rapid turnover rate of previous UI officials: The previous two presidents before Sally Mason departed after four-year terms, and Loh left to become president of University of Maryland after two years.

"It's been my only job. I love it here," Butler said about his time at the UI. "I've loved it from day one, when I pulled into town."

Butler told The Daily Iowan his interest in applying for the position grew throughout the interim period, during which he said he primarily worked on the budgeting process.

"That's probably the No. 1 thing — we want to have resources in there," he said.

Members of the UI community packed 348 IMU on Tuesday, some in the aisles or standing in the back to hear Butler's presentation.

The former dean of the College of Engineering addressed four challenges he believes the university faces — a global presence, diversity, interdisciplinary scholarship, and access and accountability.

But he noted that he feels each challenge also presents an opportunity for the UI to excel.

"It's also critical not to confuse day-to-day challenges, for example reductions in state budgets, with more important longer-term strategic challenges and opportunities, those that can transcend decades," Butler told the crowd.

He also said demonstrating the effect humanities have on the state and to individuals will continue to be important, though more difficult to quantify than the sciences.

"At the end of the day, [science] only goes so far," he said. "If you look at what transcends thousands of years, human beings have always been creative."

After earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, Butler joined the UI as a professor in 1984. He later became the dean of the College of Engineering.

Colleagues have praised him for his involvement in cluster hiring and teaching first-year seminars.
Victoria Sharp, a professor of urology and family medicine, said Butler's long career at the university proves his commitment.

"I think that he listens and gets input from teams in making decisions," Sharp said. "He's a good listener."

In response to a question about his commitment to tenure, Butler said he's a strong supporter of the practice.

"I worked very hard to get it," he said. "Tenure represents what higher education in this country is all about. … I wear it with pride."

History Professor Katherine Tachau said Butler is admired for that support of tenured faculty members.

"We'd like someone who respects and likes faculty and the things faculty do," Tachau said of her ideal provost.

Laurie Croft, the administrator for professional development at the Belin-Blank Center who has worked with Butler, said he seems to be a knowledgeable and open person.

But Croft said she plans to attend the forums for all three candidates before picking a favorite.

"I can't imagine that I'd be convinced that anyone would do a better job," Croft said about Butler.

The next provost candidate, who will be announced on Thursday, will appear for a public forum on Friday. The 23-member search committee is taking feedback on the candidates through forms available at uiowa.edu/provostsearch.

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