Imagine the University of Miami in 1965: no freshmen towers, no cafeterias, no shuttles and no organized student life.
That same year, William R. Butler joined UM, becoming vice president of student affairs at the request of former president Henry King Stanford.
Prior to his arrival at UM, Butler served as the dean of students at Ohio University.
But Butler had no qualms about packing up with his wife, Jenny, and making the move down south when Stanford insisted he was “the man for the job.”
“A lot of people thought I was crazy to come down here because there was a lot that needed to be done,” Butler said.
His first act was to establish the school’s radio station, WVUM. Stanford had appointed him treasurer of the station while Butler was still in Ohio.
“To get it where it is today, we had to work out a deal with CBS to get a tower,” he said. “It’s amazing that in 1965 it was just a little station, 10 watts, between men’s dormitories.”
Butler is also responsible for what are now Hecht and Stanford Residential Colleges. But in the first half of the school’s history, the apartments and Pearson Hall were the only housing.
Butler remembers telling the administration to replace the “gaudy green, red and orange plastic curtains hanging from the windows in the apartments,” but he was told the school did not have enough money.
“Well, get new drapes and I’ll find the money somehow,” he told administration.
Butler also taught a class in education and later started a master’s program. The program has since expanded to a doctorate program in higher education, which trains educators for administration.
For 17 years, he was responsible for admissions and financial aid, where he worked to establish the diversity and international outreach for which UM is so well-known today. Part of his plan was to hire younger staff members that could help Butler develop his vision.
“When I came we only had a handful of black students and 200 or 300 international ones,” he said. “By the time I retired, we were able to bring in more than 1,000 black students, 2,500 international students, and that flavor has stuck.”
Butler also founded the Center for Volunteer Services and Leadership Development (SLC), which bears his name. The center oversees the many student organizations that offer students several opportunities to volunteer and take on leadership roles.
“It has more than met my fondest hope with what it would do,” he said. “It adds a dimension of sensitivity and positive value to those young people.”
Butler also created the Students Activities Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC) to ensure that the funds from students’ activities fees were properly distributed among the organizations.
In 1996, the year before he retired, the Wellness Center opened. Unsatisfied with the school’s gym, he had sought donations from alumni and others connected to the school. He views the building as his final contribution to the university.
After spending 32 years at UM, Butler took seven years encapsulating the school’s history in his book “Embracing the World: The University of Miami – From Cardboard College to International and Global Acclaim.”
The book, which was published in 2008, is currently sold in the university’s bookstore. All proceeds go to the SLC.
“President Stanford said, Bill you better write a definitive history of the university,” Butler said. “You are the only person who knows enough about it.”