1862–1947, American educator, president of Columbia Univ. (1902–45), b. Elizabeth, N.J., grad. Columbia (B.A., 1882; Ph.D., 1884). Holding a Columbia fellowship, he studied at Paris and Berlin, specializing in philosophy. Beginning in 1885 he was made successively assistant, tutor, and adjunct professor of philosophy at Columbia. He became (1886) president of the Industrial Education Association, reshaped it into what is today Teachers College, Columbia, and was (1889–91) the institution's first president. He was intimately associated with John W. Burgess in the struggle to create a university organization and was largely responsible for the expansion of Columbia College into Columbia Univ. In 1890 he became professor of philosophy and education and dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and in 1901 acting president of Columbia. The next year he formally succeeded Seth Low as president. He instituted the Summer Session, University Extension (now the School of General Studies), the School of Journalism, the Medical Center, and other units that are an integral part of the present-day university.
An advocate of peace through education, Butler helped to establish the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of which he was a trustee and later president (1925–45). His efforts in behalf of disarmament and international peace won him international prestige, and he shared with Jane Addams the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize. Prominent in national, state, and New York City politics, he remained a regular Republican party member despite differences with its platforms. Though a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt, he refused to join the Progressive movement of 1912, and that year Butler received the Republican electoral votes for vice president after the death of Vice President James S. Sherman, the regularly nominated candidate. He later was the leading Republican advocate of the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, urged economy in government, and supported local reform movements. He was (1928–41) president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His books include Education in the United States (1910), The International Mind (1913), The Meaning of Education (rev. ed. 1915), Scholarship and Service (1921), The Faith of a Liberal (1924), The Path to Peace (1930), Looking Forward (1932), Between Two Worlds (1934), and The World Today (1946).