Daily Iowan: Butler Set for Provost's Chair

Friday, September 24, 2010

By Alison Sullivan
Daily Iowan

Sitting in his office, his suit jacket draped over his chair, Dean P. Barry Butler of the University of Iowa College of Engineering swiveled around to explain the array of "toys" displayed on his bookshelf. The toys, gifts from his sister and children, include a model Boeing airplane and a Lego wind turbine, a testament to his passion for wind energy.

As the newly appointed interim provost begins to explain that Iowa produces more wind energy than Great Britain, he becomes more animated and relaxed.

He is teaching a first-year seminar in wind energy, and he won't let his new position interfere with that.

After 26 years of working in the engineering school — and a decade as its dean — he will become the interim provost on Oct. 1.

Outgoing UI Provost Wallace Loh will help train Butler before he departs in mid-October to become president of the University of Maryland.

While Butler said he's received many suggestions for filling his soon-to-be vacant dean chair from faculty, staff, and students, the choice will ultimately go to Loh.

Butler came to the UI in 1984 as an assistant engineering professor, an area he went into because of his sister, Peggy.

"I thank her every day," he said, noting that the two share an interest in the field.

He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, but found his niche at the UI.

"[It has] a certain appeal and a certain atmosphere that's really positive to work in," said Butler of the UI.

Paul Rothman, the dean of the College of Medicine, said Butler is fit for the position of interim provost because of his presence at the university.

"He's really well-respected among all the deans here at the university," said Rothman.

And Butler said he has connected with students as well during his 26 years on campus. One opportunity came this year while teaching a first-year seminar on wind energy.

Alec Scranton, an associate dean in the engineering school, said Butler prepared the department for this year's influx of students. Under his watch, the program expanded from 1,100 to more than 1,500 students.

Butler said throughout his years, he has realized relationships between students and teachers are important to education and growth.

Recalling his interview when first came to the UI, he said he felt a positive spirit and the people he met made him feel instantly connected.

A smile played at his lips as he remembered the time the then-dean took him out to eat at the Lark when he was applying for a job. As a young, recent graduate, the kind gesture meant a lot.

To this day, the two remain in contact, and Butler said he still seeks advice from the former dean.

While he has always found the UI to be a positive place, he said he critically evaluates the university on a regular basis.

Though he'll start the job in one week, Butler said he never imagined he would be in a provost position.

"Uh, no. That's probably a fair answer," he said and laughed.