UT avoids separation of Butler School of Music from College of Fine Arts by declining $33 million advance

Bobby Blanchard

UT officials are turning down an immediate $33 million donation for the music school because they say a string attached to the money would incur too many monetary costs. To get the donation, the University would have to separate the Butler School of Music from the College of Fine Arts.

In 2008, longtime music school patrons Sarah and Ernest Butler made a $55-million endowment pledge to the University’s Butler School of Music to be paid throughout their lifetime. This month, the Butlers offered to pay the remaining $33 million of their pledge in full if the school became its own entity. College of Fine Arts dean Douglas Dempster said UT President William Powers Jr. decided against the split because he felt it was not in the best interest of the school’s students and programs.

Dempster said if separated from the College of Fine Arts, the Butler School of Music would lose several hundred thousand dollars annually in endowments. He also said the action would increase administrative and operational spending.

“These expenses are now largely consolidated into the larger operation of the College of Fine Arts,” Dempster said.

Ernest Butler said interest from the immediate $33 million donation would create additional scholarships for students and research funds for faculty. Butler said he and his wife will continue to pay the endowment even though the University turned down their offer.

Butler said he gave the University no other conditions it would have to meet in order for it to take the rest of the endowment now.

Typically at UT, a college is a stand-alone entity with its own dean. Some colleges contain schools and departments, such as the College of Fine Arts. The Butler School of Music is considered a school within the college and has a director, not a dean, who answers to Dempster.

Proponents for establishing an independent UT music school say the school would benefit from having a dean, instead of a director, who is focused on the school exclusively.

Butler said he does not see a reason why the Butler School of Music should remain part of the College of Fine Arts. He said the top music schools in the nation, including the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, are not part of another college. He said separating the music school would elevate its prestige.

Butler said UT gave him a lot of excuses, but in his opinion they did not provide any concrete reasons for why the Butler School of Music should remain in the College of Fine Arts. He said UT is “caught up in this bureaucracy,” which it does not want to change.

Garrett Keast, a 1995 alumnus of the Butler School of Music, said this is an opportunity the University should not pass up. Keast said while the music school has achieved more prestige in the past years, the school still has far to go.

This is not the first time establishing the Butler School of Music as separate from the College of Fine Arts has been suggested. Dempster said separating the entities is a goal many faculty have had in the past, including the Butler School of Music’s former director, Glenn Chandler.

“It has been proposed many times to former deans, provosts and presidents, and each time the decision has been to preserve the College of Fine Arts intact, including music,” Dempster said.

Austin Ferguson, Student Government’s College of Fine Arts representative and music sophomore, said he understands both sides of the issue.

“By splitting off, we do get to be our own entity and we do get everything specialized, and I do think that would help our presence grow nationally,” Ferguson said. “But on that note, I do think there would be repercussions that would be negative in that we would not get all the benefits that are available to College of Fine Arts students.”

According to the 2011-2012 UT Statistical Handbook, the College of Fine Arts had 1,832 students in 2011. More than a third, 703, are Butler School of Music students. Music students make up the second largest number of students in the college, with the largest being theatre and dance students at 705.

Printed on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 as: UT declines Butlers' $33-million advance