Arts & Sciences founding dean remembered for his love of FIU

Butler Waugh, one of FIU’s four founding fathers, passed away Nov. 7. He was 78.

An English professor by trade, being a published author was a familiar concept to Waugh. But authoring an entire university was an unexpected career turn.

Butler Waugh, far left, joined Chuck Perry, Nick Sileo and Donald McDowell at the old Tamiami Airport tower in September 1969 to officially mark the beginning of Florida International University.

When FIU Founding President Charles E. Perry was appointed president of the newly established FIU in the late 1960s — which at the time was nothing more than an abandoned airfield — Waugh was his first official hire. Working with Perry, as well as Donald McDowell and Nicholas Sileo, Waugh put pen to paper and drafted out the plan that would become FIU.

“He used to laugh and say he wrote FIU,” said Waugh’s wife, Joanne. “When he was given the opportunity to help start FIU, he just loved the idea of building a university from the ground up.”

In 1970, Waugh was named the founding dean of FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences, the first college to be formed at the university. He hired the first faculty members from the ground up. He presided over the education of the first 5,667 students to enroll in 1972. While Waugh was at the forefront of many FIU firsts, his passion resided most deeply in the classroom, according to his colleague and current English chairman Jamie Sutton.

“Butler was a master teacher, a provocateur and a great risk-taker, qualities that made him most attractive to our most adventurous, curious students,” Sutton said. “Butler was a great friend and mentor to me, but mostly, he was a model of the clever, engaged, endlessly inquisitive intellectual.”

In 1975, Butler stepped down as dean and returned to teaching. Waugh, who often found department meetings as the perfect time to groom his fingernails, remained a fixture in the Department of English until his retirement in 2003. Though he moved to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area to be closer to his wife, who is a philosophy professor at the University of South Florida, Waugh never lost his affinity for his students, particularly the smart alecks.

“He believed in education,” Joanne said. “He was also very political. He was passionate and often would say, ‘My great-grandfather was an illiterate coal miner, and I spent 40 years teaching literature at a university. Only in America could that happen.’”

A native of Pennsylvania, Waugh earned his bachelor’s degree from Washington & Jefferson College and his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1959. He started his career at the University of Kansas, but relocated to Florida in 1961 after accepting a faculty position at the University of Florida. The remainder of his career was spent at FIU.

“He really loved watching it grow and was always amazed as to what it turned into,” Joanne said. “He was always very proud.”

In addition to his wife, Joanne, he is survived by six children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, as well as a brother, Arthur Waugh, and sister, Irene Murray.

Consistent with Waugh’s wishes, no formal services have been planned. Instead, his wife said he preferred donations be sent to Alcoholics Anonymous and FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences.