George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

D. R. Butler put his imprint on Mason and military history

November 10, 2016   /   by Damian Cristodero

D.R. Butler. Photo by Ron Aira.

D. R. Butler took the index finger of his right hand and tapped it lightly on his chest.

“You have to be able to look at what you’ve done,” he said. “You see the results and you know it in here.”

Butler has done much in his 82 years, the past 25 ½ at George Mason University, from where he will retire on Feb. 1.

The associate athletic director for academics and intercollegiate athletics is a well-known personality around Northern Virginia, and has positively affected lives and futures as an adjunct professor, evinced by the binder full of laudatory letters sent to him by former students in his GOVT 351 class, Administration in the Political System.

Butler, who earned his public administration doctorate from George Mason in 1992, also imprinted his name in U.S. military history when in 1971 he wrote what became known as the Butler Report. The groundbreaking equal-opportunity study detailed how black army officers were being evaluated an average 10 to 15 points below white officers. The downgrading had a devastating effect on promotions and careers.

“I briefed the two-star general, and he briefed the secretary of the army,” said Butler, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who retired from the service in 1985 as a full colonel. “Shortly thereafter, the one-star board met and for the first time in the history of this country, out of 55 officers making one-star general, five were black. It changed the promotions board. From what I understand, for 20 years, they used that report to brief the board.”

That is why Mason’s Military Services office is honoring Butler at its annual Veterans’ Day Lunch.

“Whether looking for social justice in his own ranks, serving Mason students for decades or working as a community ambassador for the university, Dr. Butler’s positive leadership has provided opportunities and transformed lives,” said Mason President Ángel Cabrera, who will speak at the event.

Butler’s class is a practical one. Students write memorandums and talking points. There are plenty of assigned readings, but there are no right or wrong answers.

“I’m teaching them how to think,” Butler said.

And preparing them for the real world, said Juan Soto, a junior public administration major.

“As a student, I feel he cares deeply about me,” Soto said. “If you look into his history and hear his life experiences, it is incredible he isn’t more famous.”

“I learned very early there’s no limit to what you can accomplish if you’re not concerned with who gets the credit,” Butler said. “Let the historians sort it out.” 

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