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The Lomax Years (1886-1891)

The new president, Lunsford Lindsay Lomax, had no experience in operating an educational institution, but after his appointment and before he took office, he began studying other land-grant college programs, even visiting one of the premier schools and holding discussions with government officials involved in agricultural programs.

When the board met on July 1, 1886, Lomax’s first day on the job, it returned the college to the semester system, re-instituted the preparatory department, added a non-diploma business program, substituted a B.Sc. degree for the A.B. degree, discontinued the mining engineer (M.E.) degree, and added a mechanical engineer (Mech.E.) degree. The heated political interference faced by Lomax’s predecessors cooled during his tenure.

The major achievement of Lomax’s administration was the erection of the No. 1 Barracks (now known as Lane Hall), which was completed and occupied in October 1888, housing 150 students, two to a room. Lomax also secured $4,000 to convert the old Preston and Olin Building into a shop.

While Lomax faced little political interference, dissatisfaction grew with VAMC as an agricultural school, a mechanical school, and a technical school, even though the president himself was held in high regard. Added to this discontent, the discipline of the student body began to deteriorate, and the hazing of freshmen—called “rats”—increased.

After conducting a study of the college and its mission in 1890, the board of visitors recommended that the college be reorganized on a two-track system of agriculture and mechanics, a change actively opposed by Lomax. Increasingly, members of the board determined that Lomax was not the right person to take the school in a new direction.

Near the end of the year, a group of students in No. 1 Barracks became intoxicated during a party, destroying furniture and breaking doors and windows. The board viewed this incident as the last straw, but the rector of the board convinced his colleagues to wait until spring to make any final decisions. In a meeting in Richmond on April 7, 1891, the board terminated three professors, believing they did not have the proper training to fit into the proposed new program. Lomax, still held in high personal regard by the board, was asked to resign and consider another position at VAMC. But he preferred to leave the college and resigned immediately. The board appointed John E. Christian, a professor in the school, as acting president to fill Lomax’s unexpired term.