Alumnus Stuart Butts, B.A. Politics and Economics '65, was recently invited by Champlain College to return to Trent as their honoured Alumnus-in-Residence. Mr. Butts, entrepreneur and director of Xenos Inc., jumped at the invitation to spend a week in his old stomping grounds. When he arrived on campus last Monday, Mr. Butts says it felt as though he was “coming home”. During his stay, he was completely immersed in Trent life, living at Champlain College, attending campus events, and engaging with students and faculty. Friday marked his final evening as Alumnus-in-Residence and Mr. Butts came to the Great Hall to talk about his experience in a one-on-one interview. With students having made the mass exodus for reading week, the usually-bustling student hub was strangely still and quiet.
Mr. Butts pointed to the cavernous ceiling, adorned with the brightly-coloured Brian Heeney banners, and recalled how the space has changed since his days as one of Trent's first scholars. “There used to be a leak in the ceiling”, he laughed, “every time it snowed, there were pots all over the place”. When reflecting on his years as a student at Trent, Mr. Butts explained,“it's very special in that I was here at the beginning. I was a pioneer”. He described the changes since then as “dramatic”, extending far beyond the repair of a leaky ceiling.
Despite the growth, Mr. Butts saw during his week as Alumnus-in-Residence that Trent's best qualities continue to resonate. “I still talk about the small group teaching. I still talk about my personal and huge involvement in the university life at the time- that was terribly important to my personal development... Having a small college, there are so many roles to play, and everyone can play one”, said Mr. Butts. “It gives everybody room to shine”. Mr. Butts was pleased to see that Trent continues in its tradition of teaching students to think critically. “If you take everything as a given, then you don't ever question”, explained Mr. Butts, adding that in his career as an entrepreneur the question he often finds himself answering is, “why not?”.
During his time as Alumnus-in-Residence, Mr. Butts truly re-lived the campus lifestyle. He lodged in residence, dined on the meal plan, and was involved in campus activities. His more formal engagements included attending academic talks and presenting at Champlain College's discussion on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education. Mr. Butts wishes he could have attended even more of these organized events during his stay, but stressed that the highlight of his week was the opportunity to have impromptu, meaningful conversations with Trent students.
Mr. Butts was able to share his first-hand knowledge of Trent's history with those he met, from the first president to the traditions behind Bon Temps Weekend. He was glad to hear students' positive feedback including Trent's intimate academic experience, the beauty of the campus, and the opportunities to grow. While the students provided glowing reviews of Trent's faculty, Mr. Butts stated that he would like to see the degree of faculty engagement in campus life return to where it was during his days as a student. He acknowledged that there are multiple factors contributing to this trend across campuses everywhere but stated, “for this place to be as excellent as it was intended to be, that piece has got to come back”.
Before returning to residence for his final night at Champlain College, Mr. Butts proposed that all alumni of more than 20 years should be given the opportunity to try the experience in exchange for a contribution to the university. “It's better than a holiday in the Bahamas,” he laughed, “I'll even write the brochure!” And what would Stuart Butts' pamphlet about the Alumnus-in-Residence experience say? “Come and meet up with young people, come and see what the university is about, come and refresh your own appreciation for the modern world,” he exclaimed, “This is where it's happening. This is the cutting edge”.