Past Presidents

Bobby Fong, 2001-2011

Bobby Fong

When he became president of Butler on June 1, 2001, Fong was one of only 20 Asian-American college presidents in the country. A Harvard-educated Oscar Wilde scholar from Oakland, Calif., he taught English and served in academic administration at Berea College (Kentucky), Hope College (Michigan) and Hamilton College (New York) before joining Butler.

During his tenure, Butler achieved successive balanced budgets and record years for endowment growth, freshman enrollment and fundraising, including $154 million in the ButlerRising Human Capital Campaign. Several campus structures and renovations were completed, including The Apartment Village student housing, Health and Recreation Complex, the Efroymson Diversity Center, a new Butler Bowl press box, and a 40,000-square-foot lab and classroom addition to the Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building.

Fong championed improved campus-community relationships, more experiential-learning opportunities, equitable employee compensation and active recruitment of minority students and faculty. He considered Butler’s invitation to establish a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2010, and the increase in the University’s graduation rate from 62 percent to 73 percent over the decade, as two significant highlights of his term. He left Butler to become president of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.

Gwen Fountain, interim, 2000-2001

Gwen Fountain

Fountain became Butler’s first female president on June 1, 2000, when she began a term as interim president. Born in the small town of Hart, Mich. she graduated cum laude from Kalamazoo College with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She received her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Michigan. She first came to Butler as an economics lecturer in the College of Business Administration. After taking time off from her academic career, during which she dedicated herself to teaching her hearing-impaired son to speak, Fountain entered the tenure track as an assistant professor of economics and management at Butler in 1986. Over the years her administrative career at the school included positions of coordinator of curriculum redesign and director of undergraduate programs for the College of Business Administration, as well as associate provost of student learning and dean of academic affairs. Her goals as president included balancing the budget without drawing from the endowment. She also believed it was a good time to consider focusing on scientific and technological academic programs.

Geoffrey Bannister, 1989-2000

Geoffrey Bannister photo

After serving 18-months in the newly created office of executive vice president, Bannister became president of Butler on January 1, 1989. Prior to coming to Butler he had been the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. The university prospered financially, physically, and educationally under his administration. In January 1992 Bannister dealt with the uproar over the enforcement of a no-sledding policy on Butler Hill by welcoming sledders to the hill and making his own toboggan trips down the slope. In a 1999 interview for the Butler Magazine, Bannister chose “the growth in size and quality of the undergraduate student body” when asked to select the hallmark of his administration. He also cautioned that the university had “every capacity but one for greatness-great financial strength.” In May 1999 Bannister announced his resignation, effective May 31, 2000.

John G. Johnson, 1978-1988

John Johnson

Johnson was born on August 8, 1924, in Irwin, Penn. He received a bachelors degree in management engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) in 1949. His first association with Butler came when he worked as the university’s vice president for financial development from 1964 to 1966. When he returned as the president on September 1, 1978, it followed 12 years at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he had been vice president of development and a member of the management staff. Johnson represented an untraditional choice for president in that he did not have a doctorate. He also broke tradition by choosing to live off campus, the first president to do so since World War II.

Speaking after his inauguration, Johnson said that one of the guidelines for developing his administrative policies was a desire “to attract highly qualified young people who represent a broad segment of economic and cultural backgrounds.” On a personal level, he responded by creating the Scotlyn Fund in 1987, which provides financial aid for minority students enrolled at Butler. The Johnson family continues to augment the fund’s principal. During Johnson’s presidency, Butler’s endowment increased from $44 million to $82 million and the operating budget rose from $12 million to $34 million. Following his retirement on December 31, 1988, Johnson received the first Trustee Medal of Distinction for his contribution to the long-term development of Butler.

Paul R. Stewart, acting, 1977-1978

Paul Stewart

Stewart started his career at Butler as an assistant professor of English in 1954. He became the director of the university college in 1964, and seven years later he became its dean. His administrative career continued with the position of vice president for academic affairs, which he held from 1974 to 1982. Stewart served as acting president from February 1977 to September 1978. Reflecting on his year as acting president, Stewart said enrollment and finances were the two major problems he faced. He recognized the need to create programs matching current areas of interest with available faculty to maintain enrollment. Stewart listened to faculty and student concerns about such issues as alcohol and visitation rules. Among the accomplishments he noted were new paramedic and paralegal academic programs and an improved salary scale for faculty. Stewart retired after 33 years of service to Butler. Over the years his contributions had been recognized with such awards as Outstanding Professor (1965) and Bulldog of the Year (1978). He also received the Butler Medal, the Alumni Association’s highest award.

Alexander E. Jones, acting 1962-1963; 1963-1977

Alexander Jones

Born on October 11, 1920, in Independence, Mo., Jones first came to Indiana as a DePauw University student. During World War II he served in the Pacific Theater. Jones came to Butler in 1959 as a professor of English and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. From September 1, 1962 to January 25, 1963, he was the acting president of Butler; he was elected president on January 26, 1963. In the 1960s Jones took a strong stand against student protesters, telling those who opposed university policies “to leave and go to institutions with policies more to their liking.” Jones’s stance prompted Edward F. Gallahue to leave a $1 million gift to the campaign for the science building, successfully completing the campaign. Jones resigned amidst faculty efforts to unionize.

M. O. Ross, acting Feb. 23-Dec. 16, 1942, 1942-1962

M. O. Ross

Ross, who preferred to go by his initials rather than his given name of Maurice O’Rear, came to Butler in 1938 as the dean of the College of Business Administration. He served longer than any other president in the school’s history. When he took office, there were just three buildings on campus: Jordan Hall, the fieldhouse, and the Campus Club. By the time of his retirement the campus included the pharmacy building, Atherton Center, men’s and women’s residence halls, Holcomb Observatory, Holcomb Carillon tower, Robertson Hall, and Hilton U. Brown Starlight Theatre. During his presidency the university’s financial assets increased by $15 million, and Ross worked to ensure educational stability as well. He raised faculty salaries to competitive levels and added such benefits as sabbatical leave and faculty fellowship programs. In answer to student concerns, Ross abolished the quota system that had kept black student admissions to only 10 per year. He received the Butler Medal, the Alumni Association’s highest award, which recognizes extraordinary service to the university.

Daniel S. Robinson, 1939-1942

Daniel Robinson

A 1910 Butler graduate, Robinson received his doctorate from Harvard in 1917. After serving in the Navy as a chaplain during World War I, he taught at Miami and Wisconsin Universities. He assumed the office of Butler president in June 1939. Robinson cooperated with the federal government’s recruitment program for the armed forces. Military science courses were offered through the university’s physical education department, and employees of local companies engaged in filling defense contracts were offered special courses. Robinson and the board of directors clashed over issues of control of the university, and during a special meeting with the board of directors on February 23, 1942, Robinson resigned. Following service in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1942-44), he went on to become the director of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California.

Walter S. Athearn, 1931-1933

Walter Athearn

When he assumed the presidency in July 1931, Athearn was faced with the difficult task of serving during the Great Depression. In his remarks to the graduating class of 1933, he said that his goal was to guide the university through the depression “without adding to its indebtedness and without lowering a single academic standard or curtailing any essential educational service.” His “pay as you go” fiscal policy led to the dismissal of 57 professors, which fueled a controversy between him and the board of directors. The board gave Athearn the choice of resigning or dismissal. He chose dismissal. Feeling himself unfairly removed from office (there had been no hearing or a statement of cause), Athearn published a 27-page report outlining the efforts of his administration from July 7, 1931 to October 28, 1933. Although his exit was controversial, his successes while president included the reorganization of the college of education, the growth of evening and extension courses, and the establishment of a graduate college of religion.

Robert J. Aley, 1921-1931

Robert Aley

Born in Coal City, Ind., on May 11, 1863, Aley started his career in education at the age of 14, when he became the teacher in an eight-grade rural school. Aley left the presidency at the University of Maine to become Butler’s president. In his first address to students, Aley gave 10 points for a successful school career: “Observe faithfully the commandment, Honor thy Father and thy Mother; Live clean; Be loyal; Do your work; Think straight; Read good books; Cultivate a good perspective; Make friends; Have charity; and Keep your faith.” He oversaw the move to the new campus at Fairview and provided guidance during a period of acclimation. In his letter of resignation to the board, Aley wrote that he and his wife proposed to give their house at 520 Hampton Drive to the university as a president’s residence. The board accepted his resignation and on July 1, 1931, Aley became president emeritus. Reflecting on his years at Butler during a farewell luncheon, Aley said: “In executive work, I must keep hands off, give a faculty freedom-a chance to do the things that their training, ability and experience entitle them to do. Possibly that has been the very best piece of executive policy I have had.”

James W. Putnam, acting, 1920-1921; acting, 1931; acting, 1933-1935; 1935-1939

James Putnam

Before coming to Butler, Putnam taught at Illinois College, the University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, and the University of Missouri. He joined the Butler faculty in 1909 as professor of economics. After serving as the acting president on three occasions, Putnam was inaugurated as Butler’s president on February 7, 1935. When he took the office he was the vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. During his presidency student enrollment increased by approximately 25 percent, the School of Business Administration was created, and alumni interest in their alma mater rose. Putnam encouraged undergraduates to see him about their concerns and he often visited alumni groups across the country. He resigned as president and accepted the title of president emeritus and head of the graduate division in June 1939.

Thomas Carr Howe, 1908-1920

Thomas Carr Hose

An Indiana native, Howe began his affiliation with Butler as a student in 1884. After graduating in 1889 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, he studied in Germany for two years. He returned to Butler in the fall of 1892 as the Armstrong Chair of Germanic Languages. In 1896 he was granted a leave of absence to pursue graduate studies at Harvard University, from which he received a doctorate in 1899. Howe was selected to be the chairman of Butler’s endowment committee, which oversaw the completion of raising a $250,000 endowment for the college. The committee completed its work in 1907, and that fall, Howe became the dean of the institution. In the spring of 1908 he was elected president. He resigned in 1920 to devote himself to business affairs. In a memorial by James W. Putnam, Howe’s administration “was characterized by carefulness in the selection of the faculty, a desire for maintenance of high standards of scholastic excellence and conditions which would contribute to the intellectual, moral and spiritual welfare of the student body.”

Winfred Garrison, 1904-1906

Winfred Garrison

Born in St. Louis on October 1, 1874, Garrison came to Butler as professor of church history and Hebrew in 1898. He left two years later to become assistant editor of the Christian Evangelist in St. Louis. The board of directors named Garrison as Butler’s new president in March 1904; the Drift touted him as a firm believer in the role of small colleges in the educational world and in coeducation. Garrison’s career at Butler was cut short by tuberculosis, which forced him to leave for New Mexico in 1906. Although doctors had given him just two years to live, Garrison went on to enjoy long careers in academic and editorial capacities. He also wrote a number of books. In Wheeling through Europe (1900) he recounted his experiences of bicycling through Europe in the summers of 1898 and 1899. Butler awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 1955.

Scot Butler, 1891-1904, 1906-1907

Scot Butler

Scot Butler’s association with Butler goes back to his childhood, when he played on his father’s farm on land that became the first campus of NWCU. Butler was a student, professor, president, and board member of the institution that bears his father’s name. Following service in the Civil War, Butler received his bachelor’s degree from NWCU in 1868, his master’s degree in 1870, and his doctor of law degree in 1896. Speaking at Butler’s funeral service on January 16, 1931, Dean Frederick D. Kershner credited Butler with instilling “into the corporate structure of Butler University” at least three things the school could never lose: “first, thorough and high-toned intellectual achievement; second, religious and moral idealism, and third, simplicity and native dignity.”

Harvey W. Everest, 1881-1886

Harvey Everest

Everest was born on May 10, 1831, in New York. He studied at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), Bethany College, and Oberlin College, from which he graduated. Prior to coming to Butler in 1881 as its president, Everest had twice served as president of Eureka College. While at Butler, Everest served as professor of biblical literature and moral science. In 1884 he published The Divine Demonstration: A Textbook of Christian Evidence, which was adopted by Disciples of Christ bible schools.

William F. Black, 1870-1873

William F. Black

Black came to Butler in 1869 as a professor of Hebrew. During his presidency he taught Hebrew and Syriac; he also served as pastor of Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. Ovid Butler noted in a report to the board of directors on June 20, 1871, that Black had “labored hard for the Institution and his services have been much more valuable and efficient than was expected or anticipated at the time of his appointment.” Butler attributed the school’s prosperity to Black’s efforts, and hoped to be able to give a bonus to the president. Due to financial constraints, Black’s salary was just $500. In his report to the board on June 1, 1871, Black wrote he was “convinced that with a competent faculty and our present building completed we could have one thousand students within our halls instead of three hundred and forty-five-the number during the year now closing.”

Otis A. Burgess, 1868-1870, 1873-1881

Otic Burgess

Burgess first made a name for himself in Indianapolis as the pastor of Central Christian Church, where he served from 1862 to 1869. He became president of NWCU in 1868. Burgess left for a position with the First Christian Church in Chicago. He returned to NWCU and served a second time as president from 1873 to 1881. In his second inaugural address, Burgess presented a challenge to women students: “We are the first to say to woman, you claim to be equal with man, prove it by your works. We have accordingly abolished all distinction in the courses of study for the male and female student, requiring the same for each in order for graduation.”

Allen R. Benton, 1861-1868, 1886-1891

Allen Benton

A native New Yorker, Benton graduated from Bethany College in 1847. The next year he opened a classical school in Fairview, Rush County, Ind. Benton ran the academy until 1854, when he left to take postgraduate work at the University of Rochester in New York. He came to NWCU as a professor of ancient languages in 1855. He served as president from 1861 to 1868, when he resigned in protest over the low salaries for faculty. He then went to Alliance College in Ohio, as a professor of Latin; he also served as the school’s president. In 1871 Benton became the first chancellor of the new University of Nebraska. He returned to NWCU in 1876 (a year before it was renamed Butler) as a professor of philosophy. His second term as the institution’s president ran from 1886 to 1891, when he resigned to devote himself to his teaching. After Benton’s death on January 1, 1914, Butler’s board of directors expressed its sympathy to his family in a formal resolution, praising Benton for his “unfailing courtesy and tolerance, the deep learning and convictions, the well rounded character and life of our old friend and teacher.”

Samuel K. Hoshour, 1858-1861

Samuel Hoshour

The first regularly appointed president of NWCU, Hoshour was born on December 9, 1803, in Pennsylvania. He grew up in the Lutheran faith before converting to the Disciples of Christ around 1834. He moved to Indiana in 1835 and became principal of Cambridge City Seminary. His students included such notable Hoosiers as Lew Wallace and Oliver P. Morton. It was through his teaching and preaching that Hoshour became associated with many of the founders of NWCU. In 1858 Hoshour accepted the position of NWCU president at an annual salary of $1,100. After resigning from the presidency, Hoshour taught modern languages until 1875.

John Young, 1856-1858

John Young

A native of Ireland, Young came to the United States as a missionary for the Baptist Irish Society. In the early 1840s he aligned himself with the views of the Campbell religious movement. Prior to coming to North Western Christian University (NWCU), Young served as a minister of the Christian Church in Maysville, Ky., where he also ran private schools. Although Young is often credited as the first president of NWCU, he was never officially named so by the board of directors. After the second year of classes the board’s business committee named Young as acting president. The appointment was not confirmed the following summer; Young resigned in 1858. His contributions to the school included preparing the first course of study and teaching science, philosophy, and law. After leaving NWCU he practiced law. In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Young as the U.S. Consul to Ireland, a position he held until 1866.