Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Voice

I promised that I would provide space for more voices than just my own. The following letter, written by Gaythia Weis, is a wonderful contribution. She researched the history of our school and our president and puts ongoing events in perspective. Please feel free to comment on her observations.

An Open Letter to Butler University President Bobby Fong, regarding student Jess Zimmerman and the Mission of Butler University:

According to information gleaned from the Butler University website, your Butler University “President's Perspective” for October, 2009 asks a very pertinent question: “How does Butler University measure success?”

Your biography, also on the Butler University website, states that your inspiration to enter higher education administration came from the statement of a mentor, Dr. Frank Wong, who told you: "A professor controls the climate of teaching and learning in his own classroom; an administrator can affect the climate of teaching and learning across a campus." Your academic research focus was on Oscar Wilde, a man who knew first hand what it meant to be persecuted.

In 1855, Butler University was founded as both an interracial and a coeducational institution, an intellectual and moral leader of its time. Founder Ovid Butler was an abolitionist, a lawyer, a preacher, and a founder of the “Free Soil Banner”, a highly politicized, antislavery newspaper. The Free Soil Party was a third political party which opposed extension of slavery into the western states. According to Wikipedia, Free Soil candidates ran on the platform that declared: "...we inscribe on our banner, 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men,' and under it we will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions."

Ovid Butler was an ardent opponent of the Fugitive Slave law, to the point of advocating civil disobedience. According to the Indiana State website describing historical markers,, Butler wrote a letter to Campbell (founder of the Disciples of Christ in Indiana) on March 29, 1851, in which he denounces the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, stating, "As a man, and as a Disciple of Jesus, I am constrained to regard its provisions as violations of the principle of humanity, and as contravening the statutes and institutes of the Lord Christ."

I know Indianapolis as a city that has been a leader and an innovator in economic industrial relations and in social justice. My family connection to Indianapolis is through the Columbia Conserve Company, an experiment in industrial democracy. My grandfather, The Reverend A. A. Heist, a Methodist minister was head of the social services department at Columbia Conserve in the 1930's.

Our current era is another time of economic and social change. Will Butler University show leadership? How does Butler University measure success? How will you, as Butler University president, affect the climate of teaching and learning on campus?

Butler University has just achieved the honor of hosting a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, On the Butler website, Laura Behling, associate provost for faculty affairs and interdisciplinary programs, commended her colleagues’ efforts. “The focus of so many Butler faculty and staff during the University’s journey toward Phi Beta Kappa status is a testament to their belief that the liberal arts and sciences offer the critical perspectives, intellectual vigor and freedom of thought,” she said.

The Butler 2009 to 2014 strategic plan, “Dare to Make a Difference”, states: “Our work will inspire Butler students, faculty, staff, and alumni to be civic-minded agents of change - to dare to make a difference.” What could be more civic minded, more in the daring tradition of Ovid Butler, than to be an active advocate of free speech?

Jess Zimmerman strikes me as exemplifying exactly the sort of young person whom Ovid Butler would have been proud to have as a student studying at the University bearing his name.

Gaythia Weis

No comments:

Post a Comment