CARSON — When Richard Butwell arrived from South Dakota in the summer of 1984 as the new president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, a lot of people were expecting him to institute sweeping changes on the Carson campus.
After his sudden death last week from a heart attack, faculty and student leaders generally agreed that Butwell had made a strong start on changes needed to revitalize the 7,300-student university after a period of declining enrollment and persistently poor showing on some academic tests.
Last fall, he overrode the objections of much of his faculty and converted the university calendar from a 10-week quarter to a 15-week semester system. Critics said the abrupt change pushed enrollment even lower--a 9% drop in full-time attendance--and produced a budget shortfall that could lead to layoffs and cuts in programs.
But Butwell maintained that the longer study periods provided in the semester system are necessary for improved scholarship and that, after a period of adjustment, enrollment would pick up.
In his brief tenure, Butwell also reorganized the university's administration, put faculty members on notice that they would have to be more productive in scholarly pursuits and started a number of outreach programs intended to gain more support and participation from the largely minority communities served by the university.
In 1983, two-thirds of the students who took the state's basic exam for prospective teachers, the California Basic Skills Test, failed to get a passing score. In an effort to counter Dominguez Hills' image as a school that does not turn out good teacher candidates Butwell revamped the School of Education and changed its name to the Center for Quality Education.
"The search for better quality and higher standards always seemed to be uppermost on Dr. Butwell's agenda of priorities for the university," said sociology Prof. Harold Charnofsky, who served on a committee that recommended Butwell's selection as president. "He was always pushing the positive side of what we are now as an educational institution and what we can be."
Another of Butwell's priorities, faculty and student leaders said, was to push ahead with long-delayed plans to build a new student center on the campus. Late last year, he announced an accelerated fund-raising effort that he said could lead to construction of the $8.9-million center in the fall of 1988.
'Union Sorely Needed'
"A new student union has been sorely needed for a long time," said Rene Sabio, the student body president. "We can all be grateful to Dr. Butwell for helping speed up the process of financing and building it."
Sabio observed that Butwell "was a leader who knew what he wanted for the university and set out to get it. He may have ruffled some feathers along the way, but I feel time will show that he was on the right track."
W. Ann Reynolds, chancellor of the California State University system, appointed John Brownell, vice president for academic affairs, as acting president at Dominguez Hills pending the selection of a permanent replacement for Butwell. The selection process is expected to take at least six months.
Butwell, 57, was academic vice president at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion when he was picked by trustees of the California State University for the Dominguez Hills post. He succeeded Donald R. Gerth, who had been named president of the Cal State campus at Sacramento. Gerth had served eight years at Dominguez Hills.
Butwell, a native of Maine, received his doctorate as a Fulbright scholar at Oxford University in England. Before his assignment to the South Dakota post, he held administrative postions at Murray State University in Kentucky and at the State University of New York at Fredonia and Brockport.
Taught in Burma
A scholar on Asian affairs and author of numerous books and articles on Southeast Asia, Butwell taught at the University of Rangoon in Burma in the late 1950s. Last year, he chaired a Commission on the Pacific Rim set up by trustees of the California State University to develop educational programs aimed at improving the state's relations with countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Butwell, who lived in Torrance, is survived by his wife, Charlene, and two sons, Scot, a senior at South High in Torrance, and Mike, a student a Fresno State University.
Memorial services for Butwell were scheduled Saturday at the Rolling Hills Methodist Church in Rolling Hills Estates. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the A. M. Gamby Mortuary, 25001 Narbonne Ave., Lomita. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Green Hills Memorial Park, 27501 S. Western Ave., Rancho Palos Verdes.