SUNY Old Westbury Mourns the Passing of President Emeritus Calvin O. Butts, III

President Emeritus Butts in the Butts LIbrary

The entire State University of New York at Old Westbury campus community today mourns the passing of President Emeritus Calvin O. Butts, III, who passed away in the early morning of Friday, October 28, 2022.

The longest-serving president in the institution’s history, Dr. Butts joined the College in September 1999 and retired from service in August 2020. Along with his nearly 21-year career at SUNY Old Westbury, he served until his death as pastor at the renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, an institution he served for some 50 years.

“I had the pleasure of engaging with Dr. Butts a few times since my arrival on campus,” said Timothy E. Sams, who succeeded Dr. Butts when he assumed the presidency of SUNY Old Westbury in January 2021. “I was, and always will remain, impressed not only by his love for this institution and its people, but for his belief in the powerful role SUNY Old Westbury must play in providing access to a high-quality education and for its historic commitment to social justice.”

A lifelong, iconic New Yorker, Dr. Butts, through his actions and leadership, had a pervasive impact on such wide-ranging community development initiatives as education, homelessness, senior citizen and youth empowerment, cultural awareness and ecumenical outreach.

During his time at SUNY Old Westbury, he directed a period of tremendous success and growth, highlighted by the introduction of the highest admissions standards on record for the College, enrollment growth of more than 1,800 students (more than 56 percent) and the introduction in 2004 of graduate instruction at the College, which now boasts more than 300 students studying in 19 master’s degree programs.   

Under his leadership, Old Westbury received significant national and international recognition, including Presidential honors for nine consecutive years for its academically-embedded civic engagement program for first-time-to-college students. The institution was recognized each year by U.S.News and World Report for the diversity of its student body, upholding the campus’ historic commitment to access and opportunity for all members of society, and in 2018 earned its first Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from Insight Into Diversity magazine, an honor it has earned in the four subsequent years as well.

Additionally, he led more than $200 million in capital construction and renovation projects for the campus, including introducing to the campus The Woodlands Residence Halls, the Student Union, University Police Department Headquarters, as well as the new, $64 million Academic Building, which opened in 2012 as the first LEED Gold certified higher education facility on Long Island. Notable renovations include the renovation of the Campus Center Building, the Campus Library which now bears his name, and more than $10 million in instructional and administrative technological enhancements across the campus. 

He was also an active member of the greater Long Island community, serving on the leadership boards of such organizations as The Long Island Association, the Boy Scouts of America-Theodore Roosevelt Council, The Long Island Housing Partnership, and the Community Development Corporation of Long Island.

His leadership also included service in such national roles as being a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/Aids, chairman of the Board of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) and a founding member of its Board of Commissioners, co-chair of the African American Men and Boys Initiative (AAMB), president of Africare NYC, and as a member of the board of the September 11th Fund.

“The widescale effect of his lifelong calling to serve others is incalculable,” said Dr. Sams. “His was  life lived in the service of others. While his loss is saddening, I hope we can all use it also as a call to continue the life-changing work he did on so many important issues.”