PRESIDENT - BUTLER UNIVERSITY
Dr. Bobby Fong became the 20 th president of Butler University on June 1, 2001.
The first American-born child of Chinese immigrants, Fong grew up in Chinatown in Oakland, Calif. His father was a butcher, and his mother a seamstress in a sweatshop. At the age of two, Fong’s father died, and his mother passed away before he entered college.
He accepted entrance to Harvard University, supported by scholarships and Social Security benefits. He also held down work-study and outside jobs, one of which was a newspaper route to two Harvard dorms. Because the older design of the dorms didn’t include long hallways, just entryways with rooms off of each entry, Fong initially spent two hours daily going up and down five flights of stairs through each of 16 entryways. He soon shaved the delivery time to 40 minutes. “It was remarkable how it increased my physical endurance, and wonderful from the standpoint that extra newspapers were left over for me to read,” says Fong, who remains a morning person partly because of the early years of getting up at 5:30 a.m. to deliver newspapers.
Following graduation from Harvard in 1973 with an A.B. in English, magna cum laude, and election to Phi Beta Kappa, Fong returned to California to earn his doctorate in English literature from UCLA in 1978. His dissertation research formed the basis for his lifelong scholarship in the works of Oscar Wilde. He is the editor of Poems and Poems In Prose, volume one in the Oxford English Texts edition of the Complete Works of OscarWilde, designated by Choice as one of the outstanding academic books of 2000. He is also the author of essays and monographs on literature, higher education, religion, and baseball. He serves on the Board of Directors for the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Fong began his academic career at Berea College in Kentucky, where he taught from 1978-89. For his first sabbatical in 1986 he was accepted as a Fulbright lecturer to China. However, because of some political machinations going on at the time, the Chinese government canceled their participation. What initially appeared to be a setback became a career crossroads when Fong became a National Fellow and assistant program director for the Association of American Colleges in Washington, D. C.
It was here he met his late mentor Dr. Frank Wong, provost at the University of Redlands, who encouraged him to go into higher education administration. Wong memorably observed, “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.”
Inspired by these words, Fong left Berea in 1989 to become professor of English and dean for arts and humanities at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He left Hope in 1995 to accept a position as dean of the faculty and professor of English at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., from whence he came to Butler.
Fong is married to the former Suzanne Dunham (B.A. Wellesley ’74, M.A. UCLA ’78, J.D. Kentucky, ’82). An attorney, she taught at the University of Kentucky law school and edited a mineral law manual which is now considered a standard reference work. In New York she served on the local school board. In Indianapolis, in addition to being the First Lady of Butler University, she serves on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church and teaches at the Indiana University Law School.
They are the parents of two sons: Jonathan (Connecticut College ’06), and Colin (Bowdoin College freshman).
Fong is also an avid baseball fan and card collector. “The wonderful thing is that immigrant families never throw away anything, and I still have my childhood collections, which enabled me to complete sets of Topps for 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962,” says the Yankee fan, whose prize card is a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle.
In an effort to be accessible to students, faculty and staff, Fong meets informally with all comers for an hour each week at Starbuck’s campus location. Fong says, “I want to able to answer questions or clarify issues of policy by sitting down and talking with people. I want to be seen as a person willing to be open to queries.” During his four years as president, he has helped restore fiscal equilibrium to Butler, overseen record fundraising years, and completed a strategic plan for new curricula and facilities.
Butler University is a comprehensive master’s university comprised of five colleges, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the Jordan College of Fine Arts, enrolling over 3,800 undergraduate students and four hundred graduate students. It is committed to providing full-time residential baccalaureate-degree students with both a personalized liberal education and opportunities for professional training. Three-quarters of the students do internships prior to graduation, and many more are involved in service learning.
Founded in 1855, the University’s name honors Ovid Butler, a prominent Indianapolis attorney and abolitionist whose handwritten charter for the university reflected his belief that higher education should be available to all, regardless of gender or race, a radical proposition in antebellum America. As Butler celebrates the 150 th anniversary of its founding during academic year 2005-06, the inclusive vision that prompted its founding remains no less compelling. In Butler’s institutional future, the divides it seeks to bridge include those of ethnicity, ideology, and economic disparity as well as race and gender, but the proffered solution is the same: that education should be the global commons where all people can meet with respect and toleration in order to forward individual aspirations and to fashion a common destiny.