Butler was appointed an assistant in philosophy at Columbia in 1885, becoming professor of philosophy and education in 1890 and president of the university in 1901. He held the latter post until his retirement in 1945. Under his leadership Columbia grew from a provincial college into a university of world renown.
As a young man Butler strongly criticized the pedagogical methods of his time. As founder and president of the Industrial Education Association (1886-91) he played a central role in the establishment of the New York College for the Training of Teachers (later part of Columbia University). In later years, however, he criticized pedagogical reform itself, steadfastly defending the "great tradition" of humanism in education and lashing out against such contemporary trends as vocationalism in education and behaviourism in psychology as the "new barbarism."
Butler was a champion of international understanding, helping to establish
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of which he was a trustee
and later president (1925-45). He was active in the councils of the
Republican Party for more than half a century, attending many national
conventions. He was also president of the American Academy of Arts and
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