Office of the President
For Bethel University President, West Tennessee native, and grandfather of 11, Walter Butler, family is everything. And family is what he considers the students, faculty, trustees, staff, and alumni who comprise what he calls the “heart and soul” of the school.
“Everyone here is committed to making a difference in the lives of our students. They’re on a mission,” Butler says. And Bethel’s size is important to fulfilling that mission. “We’re small enough that you’re far more than just a number here,” he says. “You’ll really get to know your classmates and your professors at Bethel.”
That’s why, for Butler, Bethel is far more than just a place to receive a degree. It’s a place to change your life.
“Earning a degree isn’t an ending – it’s a beginning,” Butler says. “When you walk across that stage with your diploma, you’re not only changing your life; you may be changing the next generations of your family tree.”
President Butler says his previous professional experiences uniquely formed and guided his present-day leadership. Immediately after completing his undergraduate degree at Bethel, he started work as an admissions counselor at the school in 1975. He held that position for three years, then ran for the office of Carroll County Trustee. At 24, Butler became the youngest county-wide official ever elected in Carroll County. Butler was re-elected three times and once as County Executive, spending a total of nearly 18 years in Carroll County government.
In 1996, Gov. Don Sundquist tapped him to serve as Tennessee’s Director of State Parks, overseeing 1,600 employees and a budget of $57 million. From there, Sundquist appointed him Deputy Commissioner of Personnel for Tennessee’s 38,000 employees, then named him Commissioner of Personnel. When Governor Sundquist's term ended, Butler returned to his alma mater, first as Director of Business Affairs, then as Vice President of the College of Liberal Arts, and finally as Vice President for Bethel’s College of Criminal Justice.
“A lifetime of dealing with people had a huge impact on my world-view. As a public servant, I had to do the right thing every day. The responsibilities and challenges were great. Even though I never planned on being president of this university, all of that experience led me here.” Butler is deeply aware of Bethel’s long and rich history and is humbled by the responsibility of leading a Christian university that’s been closely affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church since its founding in 1842.
President Butler sees a bright future for Bethel. “We continue to grow both our on-campus opportunities and our online presence. We’re not only producing graduates who go on to become leaders in their fields; we’re also changing the lives of every individual we touch.”