DECEMBER 2019 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 25
SUNY COLLEGE AT OLD WESTBURY PRESIDENT REV. CALVIN O. BUTTS
THE REV RETIRES BY JAMES BERNSTEIN
The Rev. Calvin O. Butts is the longest
serving president in the history
of SUNY Old Westbury. After 20
years, he will retire in late January
2020. Since Butts has been president,
enrollment has soared 56 percent to
about 5,077. The faculty has grown to
more than 170, from 113. He has also
overseen the college’s investment of
approximately $150 million in capital
projects, including the introduction
of cutting-edge technologies on campus
and the completion of five new
residence halls, a Student Union,
and a 147,000 square-foot academic
building. He is also the pastor at the
nationally renowned Abyssinian
Baptist Church in Manhattan. Butts
is known for his lifelong advocacy
for social justice and civil rights. Old
Westbury is one of the most diverse
colleges in the SUNY system.
Why have you chosen to
retire? It’s time. You’ve got to
make way for younger people,
people with more energy. The
average shelf life for a college
president is six years. I’ve had
You hired quite a number of
new faculty members during
your tenure, correct? Yes. I
could not have achieved what
I did had it not been for that
faculty. One young man helped
build the new Academic Center.
There has not only been an increase
in the number of faculty
members, but in their diversity
Old Westbury is considered one of
the most diverse of the SUNY colleges.
That must make you proud.
Yes, but it’s all much more than
diversity that counts. I hate talking
about race. I don’t believe in race. It’s
a false construct. A person ought to
be judged on character, not race.
When you arrived 20 years ago,
what had to be done? We needed to
work on the infrastructure. I had a
maintenance guy who said he didn’t
know how to shut off the lights. I saw
that we also had to build trust
between the faculty and the
administration. We had
to settle the student
body down. We had,
from time to time,
What do you feel are significant
accomplishments? Well, the college
is as strong as it’s ever been. Bob Mc-
Millan (a former board chairman)
helped me a great deal. The faculty
had to be respected. We addressed
that. They have a voice now on what
happens on campus. We also created
a sense of civility and respect between
the faculty, the staff and the
students. Things were pretty tense
when I came.
How did you bring about this
civility? My predecessor
at Abyssinian Baptist
had also been
He said to
it ’s all
have to set the right tone.” It’s about
your personality and your faith in
God. It’s learning to listen to people
and not thinking everybody is your
What has disappointed you most in
your time here? We raised millions
of dollars from government. Gov.
George Pataki gave us a lot of help.
But it wasn’t the same with the private
fund raising. Hofstra, Adelphi,
they were always way ahead of us.
This is an area that needs strengthening.
We provide support to a lot of
poor students. We need more space,
new faculty. I will work on all that
until I leave.
Has your faith played a role in how
you governed this college? Yes. Corinthians
13 says “Love is patient, love
is kind. It does not envy, it does not
boast.” I’ve been angry at people, but
I knew I had to calm down. I love this
institution. It’s transformed me in
many ways. Its mission is close to my
heart. I feel this is something I
was called to do.
How did you manage to run
the college and the church?
By the grace of God. I went
back and forth from the city
to here. On a Sunday, after
preaching two sermons, I
would drive to New Haven.
Then I got back in my car
and drove to Stratford. I
finished there and drove
to Brooklyn and preached
there. I did that quite a bit.
Then Monday morning, I
was at my desk here.
What are your plans for
the future? I’m still engaged
with the church.
I plan to teach here as a
professor of American
Studies this coming fall.
And, the church leaders
changed the church’s
constitution. It now
allows me to remain
there until I’m 75.
at Old Westbury
Calvin Butts is
“I love this institution.
It’s transformed me in many ways.
Its mission is close to my heart. I
feel this is something
I was called to do.”