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Dr. Julian Ashby Burruss

Our New President

By Dean H. L. Price

The alumni and friends of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute need no introduction to our new president. He is personally known and appreciated by the majority of them, and to the remainder as well as to all who are in touch with educational affairs in Virginia his public record is a familiar one.

It is a source of congratulation to the alumni that one of their number has been chosen by the Board of Visitors to direct the affairs of their alma mater. In spite of the fact that changes in presidents have been rather frequent at V. P. I., the Institute has been fortunate in securing men of ability to govern her affairs. The foundations for a great and useful institution of learning have been well laid. There has been steady progress and a broadening of the field for service of the institution since the reorganization which was effected in the early days of Dr. J. M. McBryde's administration. This, however, is the first time that a son of V. P. I. has been called upon to serve as chief executive of the Institute. To all those who know Mr. Burruss or who are familiar with his career as a public servant, his selection as president is regarded as a happy omen for the future success and greatness of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Dr. Julian Ashby Burruss
Dr. Julian Ashby Burruss

It was through no accident that the Board of Visitors made its selection for this important post. When it was learned that President Eggleston would leave the institution at the end of last session, the minds of many of the alumni turned instinctively to the then successful president of the State Normal and Industrial Institute for Women at Harrisonburg, Virginia. They knew Mr. Burruss to be peculiarly fitted by temperament, training, and experience for the presidency of V. P. I. As one of its former students, he is intimately acquainted with all that is best in its traditions; his broad and thorough training has been largely in such branches of learning as will equip him for leadership in industrial education; his experience in positions of responsibility elsewhere will be of great value to V. P. I. Mr. Burruss has been uniformly successful throughout his educational career. To those who knew him as a student at V. P. I., this is not a matter for surprise. It is natural for them to regard him as the logical man to succeed President Eggleston. Happily for the V. P. I., its Visitors arrived at the same conclusion after a careful and most deliberate search for the best available man to fill this place. A brief sketch of the record of Mr. Burruss, both as a student and as an educator, will show that his selection as president of this great institution was both logical and wise.

Julian A. Burruss was born in Richmond, Virginia, on August 16, 1876. His early education was in the public schools of that city. He graduated at the Richmond High School in 1892. He was car-service clerk of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad for two years, during which time he attended the Virginia Mechanics Institute. In September, 1894, he entered the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and graduated with honors in the course of civil engineering four years later. Naturally his student record will be of peculiar interest to our present student body. Although an honor student, he was never a bookworm. While attaining a high standard of scholarship in all of his studies, he found time to take part in many and varied student activities. His influence with his class and with the corps of cadets was always on the side of right. He not only applied himself assiduously to his studies, but gave all that was best of himself to his fellows and associates. He was respected alike by his classmates and by the faculty. The following positions filled by him while a student at V. P. I. show his versatility as a college man: President, Richmond Club; President, Maury Literary Society; President, Y. M. C. A.; Editor-in-chief, the Gray Jacket; Editor-in-chief, the Bugle; Captain, Battery E. The student body will find the new president a sympathetic friend who fully understands the student's viewpoint, and at the same time, from his own record as a student, we may expect him to demand of them a high standard of conduct and scholarship.

Subsequent to graduation at V. P. I., Mr. Burruss pursued post-graduate studies at a number of other institutions of learning. In 1898-1899 he held a graduate scholarship at Richmond College, and received diplomas in physics, French and German. In 1905-1906 he took post-graduate studies at Columbia University and received the degree of A. M. He was awarded the following year a fellowship in education at the same university. Although engaged continuously in teaching or executive work, he has utilized vacation periods in summer study at Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Chicago.

Mr. Burruss was commandant of cadets and instructor in Mathematics and Science in the Reinhardt Normal College of Georgia for the session of 1899-1900; a similar position was held by him in the Speers-Langford Military Institute of Arkansas for the session of 1900-1901, at which time he also taught mathematics in the Searcy Female Institute. He served as principal of the Leigh Public School of Richmond from 1901 to 1904. He was then attached to the staff of the city superintendent as director of manual arts in which capacity he introduced this branch of instruction for the first time in the school system of the city of Richmond. He was director of manual of arts in Richmond until 1908, during which time he was granted a leave of absence for post-graduate study at Columbia University. After completing his studies at Columbia, Mr. Burruss received several tempting offers elsewhere, but he returned to the former position held in his native city.

Mr. Burruss was married to Miss Rachel Cleveland Ebbert of Covington, Kentucky, on June 18, 1907.

In June, 1908 he was offered the position of President of the Rochester Mechanics Institute of Rochester, New York, which is one of the largest technical institutions in the North. Almost simultaneously with this offer, however, came the call to the presidency of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, Virginia, which institution had been provided for by the General Assembly of 1908. The decision made between these two offers shows an interesting trait in the new president's character. The Rochester Mechanics Institute was at this time a large and well established technical school, offering a very attractive field of work and a handsome salary. The State Normal and Industrial Institute for Women was yet to be built. Mr. Burruss decided, however, to cast his lot with the new institution of his native state. Although the decision was made at a considerable financial sacrifice, that it was the correct one to make is shown by subsequent events.

The record of Mr. Burruss as president of the State Normal at Harrisonburg should be of special interest to the friends of V. P. I. It is as president of this sister state institution that he has demonstrated his ability as college president and educational leader. He began organizing the new school at Harrisonburg in the fall of 1908. He has had charge of the building plans and has directed the educational work from the beginning. The success of the Harrisonburg school is, therefore, a true measure of the success of its president as an executive officer and educator, and the success of this school may be described as phenomenal. From the very outset the institution has maintained high standards of normal-school work, especially in technical branches. In fact the work of the Harrisonburg school has been of such high character as to attract attention from other states. Its plans have been well laid to make it a force in the educational system of the state.

Besides filling important and time-consuming positions in the educational field, Mr. Burruss has taken an active part in the organized effort to promote education, and he has been a frequent contributor to educational journals. While in New York City in 1906 he took an active part in the organization of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education. This society has already accomplished much good for the educational work of the country, and out of its efforts grew the Smith-Hughes legislation, passed by Congress in 1917. For many years Mr. Burruss has been a member of the National Educational Association, the National Society for the Scientific Study of Education, the Southern Education Association, and the Southern Educational Council. He is an ex-president of the Virginia Association of Schools and Colleges for Girls, and also the Virginia State Teachers' Association. He is at present a member of the Board of Directors of the latter organization. During the past summer Mr. Burruss was professor of rural education in the University of Chicago. For two years he was president of the Chamber of Commerce of the city of Harrisonburg, and for a number of years he has served as trustee and chairman of the executive committee of the Rockingham Memorial Hospital of Harrisonburg. He has also shown an active interest in the religious welfare of the communities in which he has lived; he is a deacon in the Presbyterian Church.

The new president of V. P. I. has a most attractive and forceful personality; in disposition he is mild and in manner unassuming; he is possessed of quiet dignity, yet is approachable. The reputation of an indefatigable worker follows him. He has taken up his work at V. P. I. quietly, yet everyone associated with him has been impressed with the ready grasp he has of the problems of the institution.

With the vigor and optimism of young manhood, with ideal training for leadership in industrial education, with a lofty purpose of serving his fellow man, with a fine loyalty to his alma mater and state, with a wide acquaintance with educators and men of affairs, with the love and esteem of his fellow alumni, with the confidence and united support of his faculty, and with a larger enrollment of students than ever before in the history of the institution, Julian A. Burruss enters upon his duties as president of V. P. I. under the most inviting circumstances. The alumni and friends of the institution may reasonably expect that under his wise guidance there may emerge a greater V. P. I. with an ever-increasing influence for the betterment of the industrial conditions of state and nation.


Harvey L. Price was Dean of the Department of Agriculture.

From the Bulletin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute -- The State Agricultural and Mechanical College, Opening Number, Vol. 13, No. 1, November, 1919, pp. 10-13.