Meet Barry Butler
The University's new provost is passionate about collaboration, student success
This spring, University of Iowa president Sally Mason named Barry Butler as executive vice president and provost. Butler had served in the role on an interim basis for six months prior to the appointment, but his history at the UI goes back much further. He joined the faculty of the College of Engineering in 1984, became a member of the college's administration in 1997, and served as its dean from 2000 to 2010. Now he's bringing his leadership skills to the entire university and working to advance its strategic plan. He recently spoke with Parent Times about his career at Iowa and his goals for the current academic year.
The first thing that comes to mind is the people: I've had some really good relationships with faculty, staff, and students—not just in the College of Engineering, but across the whole campus. Iowa allows for a lot of collaboration both within a given unit and across units. It's very important to have the opportunity to work with others, and to be working with colleagues who want to collaborate and share the credit on big projects. That's not something you see everywhere. The state and local community plays a big role, too. Iowa City is a wonderful place to live, and I've met all sorts of great people across the state in the communities that I visit.
What accomplishment from your time as dean of the College of Engineering are you most proud of?
I worked with faculty and administrators to implement an undergraduate curriculum that was supportive of our goal to graduate students who are well-educated in the fundamentals of engineering, have an appreciation for the arts and humanities, can work in multidisciplinary teams, are articulate communicators, and demonstrate global awareness. That is, we developed a curriculum that goes beyond technology. The college's "tagline" was—and still is— "Where students become engineers … and something more." When we started using that 10 years ago, people within the college didn't really buy into it. But, over time, you heard more and more people using that idea as the basis for an education. I think it's important to have a good understanding of more than just your discipline in order to be successful.
What are your goals in your first year as provost?
A major part of my job is advancing the University's strategic plan. It's really a blueprint of how to move the University forward. Most of it is academic, which falls under the responsibility of this office. Right now we're identifying specific actions that we can take to contribute to areas such as student success. We want to make sure that when students come here to get an education, they get a degree and they're successful in their field.
The University of Iowa had another record-setting first-year class this fall. What do you think this says about the University? And what is the University doing to support these students during their years here?
The University of Iowa continues to be a very attractive choice for a large number of students. The number of applicants has been growing for the past 20 years. In addition, alumni surveys indicate our graduates feel they received a high-quality education that has propelled them in their respective careers. This positive impression of the "UI experience" eventually gets back to prospective students in their communities. With respect to retention, we have put in place a number of programs that start before the students enter the University, and continue through graduation. Specifically, our living-learning communities have proven to be instrumental in building community amongst first-year students. Also, our first-year seminars bring students together in small groups with senior faculty. I teach one myself and can attest to the impact it has on getting students engaged with faculty—and faculty engaged with students.
How do you stay in touch with the needs and concerns of students?
As I mentioned, I teach a first-year seminar on wind energy. This small-group experience provides me with an opportunity to connect with students from all disciplines. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. In addition, I meet regularly with the officers of our student government. This is a very good way to know what is most important to the students. I also like to talk with students I run into around campus whenever possible.