Malcolm Butler appointed dean for Cato College of Education

Malcolm Butler will join UNC Charlotte’s Cato College of Education as dean in January 2022. He will arrive from the University of Central Florida where he is professor and director of the School of Teacher Education and coordinator of the Ph.D. program in Science Education in the College of Community Innovation and Education. He holds a secondary appointment with the Learning Sciences Faculty Cluster.

Currently, Butler leads an academic unit of more than 50 full-time faculty members and more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students within the Hispanic-serving metropolitan doctoral research university. He has secured more than $7 million in funding to support his research and scholarly initiatives and has co-authored and co-edited three books and numerous book chapters and journal articles. Butler is one of the authors of the K-5 science curriculum, National Geographic Science.

Butler recently served as president of the Association for Science Teacher Education and is past chair of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Southern University, a historically Black university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and an M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida.

“As one of the largest teacher preparation institutions in the state, UNC Charlotte has sought an experienced administrator, researcher and mentor who can further the college’s goal to be a leader in educational equity through excellence and engagement,” said Provost Joan Lorden. “We believe Malcolm Butler is that leader, and we welcome him warmly as UNC Charlotte enters its next chapter as Charlotte’s urban research university.”

Q & A with Malcolm Butler

When you were considering this position, what made UNC Charlotte and the Cato College of Education a place you’d want to be?

The more I looked into the university and the college, the more I became intrigued by the innovative and transformative work taking place. And coming to Charlotte for the campus visit as a finalist for the position sealed the deal. Cemented in my mind was the possibility that it was a place I could see myself learning and growing with amazing and committed students, faculty, staff and community partners. It was obvious to me that there are people who are doing and want to do the necessary hard work and heart work, and have a little fun doing it.

Why should someone thinking about a career in teaching pursue it?

We often call teaching a noble profession. And that is certainly true. However, teaching can be so much more. It can be an avocation, a calling. Pursuing a teaching career provides one with the unique opportunity to impact the future of society in a significant way. And being around young people can keep you young!

What do you see as a few of the big questions we need to answer in our educational system?

The big questions seem to have been around a while. Here are a few (while acknowledging there are others, as well):

1) How do we apply what we know to educate our children for careers that have not been created?

2) How do we apply what we know to educate all children equitably?

3) How can we ensure that every learner has the opportunity to have caring and competent educators (e.g., teachers, counselors, and administrators) every day in every classroom in every school in every community.

You’ve traveled an interesting career path. What led you to move from earning a physics degree to focusing on educational leadership?

Early in high school, I had plans to become a computer programmer. By my senior year, my plans shifted to majoring in physics in college. I stayed with that plan, resulting in my earning a bachelor’s degree in physics. Graduate school seemed like the next logical step. So, off I went to work on my Ph.D. in physics. While in graduate school, I volunteered in an afterschool program. It was there that I became fascinated with the idea of learning and teaching young people. I went to the university’s College of Education to find out how to become a teacher. I switched to education and worked on my Master’s degree and earned my teaching certification. Teaching middle and high school students and coaching basketball was definitely a high for me. Then I started to think about how else I could impact the lives of young people beyond the classroom, while still satisfying my thirst for research. Earning a Ph.D. in Science Education afforded me the opportunity to do both. As a professor, I continued to seek opportunities to work with students, not expecting to leave the professoriate. However, some of my mentors and colleagues strongly suggested that I could make a difference at another level in the academy, and subsequently, I became involved with administering and coordinating programs and now I am fortunate to have the opportunity to effect change at another level at a fantastic institution of higher education!

Could you share one short term and one long term goal for the college as you approach the beginning of your tenure?

One short-term goal would be to get to know as many of the students, staff, faculty and administrators within the college and community and learn about their hopes and dreams for the Cato College of Education. One long-term goal would be to work toward achieving a collective vision for each of us, with clear indicators for when the vision has been achieved.

What message would you send to teachers, school administrators, and counselors responding to the impacts of the pandemic?

The pandemic has caused many significant changes in the lives of everyone. As teachers, school administrators and counselors it is important to take care of yourselves – even as you try to meet the many demands of students, teachers, and families.

What’s a meal that takes you back to your childhood?

My favorite meal growing up in Louisiana (and dare I say, still today!) is white beans and rice (exclusively, Camellia brand Great Northern Beans) and candied sweet potatoes (although I like yams, the preference is definitely sweet potatoes – and there is a difference!). My wife, Dr. Vikki Gaskin-Butler, learned how to cook beans from my mom, and now I can get that childhood taste whenever she prepares them.

When you meet a person for the first time, what do you hope they walk away thinking about Malcolm Butler?

These famous words come to mind: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Thinking and feeling are two distinctly different, yet intimately related human endeavors. I hope my initial interaction with a person honors their humanity in a memorable way.