With the announcement Wednesday that the school will join the new Big East Conference this summer, Butler now will regularly be on the same court as basketball and academic powerhouses such as Georgetown University. This week the Bulldogs head into March Madness for the sixth time in seven years, A No. 6 seed, they are slated to play Bucknell on Thursday with hopes of making it to D.C. for the East Regionals.
Butler officials are thrilled with the recognition and hope that the conference change — along with a lucrative television deal — will transform the university, further building its national reputation. But there also are worries about the rapid growth and what it could mean for a school that had existed in near obscurity for more than 150 years.
“I worry that it’s a dance with the devil,” said Margaret Brabant, a political science professor who is chairwoman of the Butler faculty senate. “It’s multimillions of dollars, and money changes people. And if we don’t remain vigilant and ask questions, we will go the way of other institutions.”
Many students say they were attracted by Butler’s small and quiet campus, tucked away in a historic, upscale neighborhood in north Indianapolis. Classes typically have fewer than 20 students, and most professors prioritize teaching over research. Star basketball players study, sleep and eat in the same places as non-athletes. On a recent tour, the student guide pitched Butler as being “a small campus with a big-campus feel.”
Recently, the boom in interest has caused a capacity squeeze; the number of undergraduates has grown about 8 percent in five years. The residence halls, university-run apartments and Greek houses are packed, with students sometimes living three to a room or in converted lounges. Parking is scarce. The university has struggled to staff all of its introductory courses without increasing class sizes.
“Right now it’s about perfect,” said Carley Thompson, 20, a sophomore pharmacy major. “I don’t want that to change.”
Right now, Butler operates much like a traditional liberal arts school. Its endowment sits at about $150 million, and it is highly dependent on tuition, making it one of the most expensive universities in Indiana, with graduates who have higher-than-average debt. There are only about 500 graduate students, and nearly all of its 4,200 undergraduates are younger than 24 and enrolled full time. More than 80 percent of the student body is white.