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Be the Change Profiles



Julian A. Burruss JMU's first president

When Julian Burruss arrived in Harrisonburg in July 1908, he faced a daunting task — to make a college materialize on an empty field. But Burruss had the vision and all the magician's tools he needed. Though only 33, he was a decisive man, with excellent executive skills. How else could one man generate in only a dozen weeks the blueprint for what would become a major university? After visiting other normal schools, Burruss, an engineering graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, authored a 22-page document for the Board of Trustees in which he outlined every detail of the new school. Then he moved with vision and precision to fulfill the board's ambitious goal for opening in September 1909. Burruss personally interviewed and selected 150 students, plus 15 faculty members. He wrote curriculum and chose building materials. He supervised construction and promoted the school. Without exception his decisions were excellent ones with ramifications that would ring through the century. As president, he remained a serious and focused man; and early students often found him elusive, sometimes seeing him only as he slipped in and out of his office. But he knew every student by name and closely supervised every detail of the emerging school during the 11 years he invested building the new school from which a major national university would emerge.

Tenure: 1908-1919
Name: The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg (1908),
The State Normal School for Women at Harrisonburg (1914)






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