Virtual Voices

Butler didn't do it

Education

On the basketball court, Butler University has a magical ability to compete with the best. As a smaller school in the Horizon League, Butler recruits few if any future NBA stars. Yet the team makes up for it with persistence, hustle, and intense mental concentration.

Butler did it to the more talented, No. 1-seeded Syracuse Orange, 63-59, Thursday night in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and will now take on Kansas State in the Elite Eight Saturday in Salt Lake City. A victory over the Wildcats would send the Bulldogs back to their hometown of Indianapolis for next week's Final Four.

The Butler Faculty Senate, in sorry contrast to the men's basketball team, saw an open lane and an easy layup but kicked the ball into the stands.

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In other words, the faculty representatives had a shot at landing U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts as a commencement speaker but voted it down.

Take these thoughts as a lament for Butler, from a friend. I have taught journalism there and have welcomed Butler students into internships at The Indianapolis Star.

The school could be something rare in American higher education---offering a portfolio balanced between left and right, a school that shows students how to listen to both sides of the political spectrum.

The faculty has some ideological and philosophical diversity. Sociology professor Marvin Scott, for example, is a social and fiscal conservative and was the first African-American to be nominated for statewide office as a Republican in Indiana when he challenged Evan Bayh for the U.S. Senate in 2004. He is running for Congress this year.

The school has a history of bipartisanship on speaking platforms. For the school's 150th anniversary, both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush gave major speeches. Years earlier, liberal presidential candidate George McGovern debated conservative columnist Cal Thomas at the school.

Butler could be marketed as an exception to the normal pattern in American higher education. On most campuses, the dominant political view of the faculty across America leans to the left, especially in the social sciences.

Yet the Faculty Senate blew the chance to give Roberts an honorary degree. He has Indiana roots and a niece at the school. He's coming to the city on April 7 to speak on legal education at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

One Butler faculty member, economics professor Bill Rieber, thinks the Faculty Senate missed an opportunity: "This was an ideological vote. We want people of stature to come, especially if they are connected to Indiana and Butler. One person said Roberts was not in favor of a woman's right to choose. There was a comment about getting too many right-wingers. We just had Gov. Mitch Daniels last year."

Oddly enough, the Faculty Senate has approved an honorary degree for another Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She leans to the liberal or judicial activist side of the legal debate.

And Gov. Daniels is not exactly on the far right. He believes in balanced budgets and a conservative approach to fiscal matters. Yet he also prefers to stay away from social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. He has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate because he has kept the Indiana fiscal house in better order than most other states, but he says he's not going to trouble himself with trips to New Hampshire or Iowa.

So was this faculty vote part of a left-wing conspiracy in the Butler Senate?

Probably not. It seems to be more of a lack of understanding of Butler's potential in the marketplace of ideas---the chance to provide a balanced approach for college students in an academic culture tilted to the left.

The Faculty Senate just couldn't see an easy layup.

UPDATE: Butler University continued its magical run in the NCAA tournament Saturday, defeating Kansas State 63-56. The Bulldogs will now return home to Indianapolis to play in the Final Four.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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