By Caitlin McHugh
The most tenured professor at Canisius College, Dr. Robert J. Butler has been teaching here for 51 years. It is the teaching that keeps him driven and excited to come to work every day.
Butler is a member of the English department and teaches a variety of different courses, such as freshman writing classes, upper level courses in American and modern literature, and, currently, an African American literature course. He describes literature as a very personal type of world. “Literature is welcoming,” he commented. “It opens it’s doors to everybody.”
His favorite course to teach is his African American literature course because it teaches social reality, and he feels it is grounded in real problems written about by people who have been through a great deal of difficulty. His interest in teaching this course was developed while working at his first teaching job in Jackson, Mississippi at an African American school. The students were interested in it so, naturally, it sparked his interest.
He grew up in a small town in Massachusetts called Pittsfield. It is a town that is famous because of the atmosphere created by literary echoes that also give the town its reputation. Although he described his hometown as a great place to grow up, he expressed that he is happy with the choice he made to move to Buffalo.
Prior to starting his career at Canisius College, he attended a small school in Vermont called St. Michael’s College where he majored in English. Upon graduating from St. Michael’s, he attended the University of Notre Dame for graduate school where he became friends with a man who used to teach at Canisius and suggested he apply for a job opening here.
When he decided to take the job, however, he only had the intention of staying for one year to make some money to help pay off his student loans and go back to graduate school. He loved it so much he decided to stay.
Dr. Butler takes a lot of pride in his teaching here at Canisius. He comes to campus seven days a week and enjoys every minute of the courses he teaches, and he is very fond of his students. “It’s the teaching that really drives me,” he said. “It’s the teaching that really keeps me fresh and new.”
He particularly enjoys that Canisius allows him to teach an assortment of topics. “Canisius is a really good place to teach because it doesn’t narrow you into one specialty,” he continued, “but it encourages you to develop a lot of new courses and to make them broad.”
In order to improve his teachings regularly, he spends a lot of time over the summer doing research to help him generate new ideas and ways to engage the students. He tries to teach his courses in a way that engages the students in multidisciplinary ways by connecting literature with other specialties such as history, religion, and philosophy. His students recognize this and are especially appreciative of his teaching methods.
Senior Alie Iwanenko has had the privilege of knowing Dr. Butler since she was a freshman. She expressed her appreciation for the way Butler integrates literature with other topics. “He teaches classes from a historical perspective,” she said. “He’s an English professor but he teaches the history of the time period of the literature he’s teaching.”
She feels that Butler is the kind of professor that you can go to with any of your ideas and he will always try to find a way to incorporate it into his assignments. “He’s good at getting students involved in learning what they’re passionate about,” she said.
Iwanenko also shared that it means a lot to her that Dr. Butler cares so much about his students. She feels that he makes a point to recognize all of the students’ successes and tries to be supportive of everything that they are involved in on campus.
When he is not working, Butler enjoys gardening, traveling, and biking. A fun fact about him is that he has been riding his bike to school every day for the past 35 years.
Canisius College recognizes the importance of service within the community, and Dr. Butler shared that he is very proud that the campus allowed him to be involved in teaching courses to inmates at the local prison and helping them work towards rebuild their lives.
Teaching is still something that he is passionate about after all of these years, and it is reflected in the way he describes Canisius College. “If Canisius wasn’t such a great place to teach, I wouldn’t have stayed here for 51 years,” he said.