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Virginia Tech Historical Data Book, Section 1.4:
The Buchanan-Shipp-Hart Years (1880-1881)

Buchanan delayed accepting the presidency until the winter of 1880 and did not assume his duties until about the first of March. One week after taking office he announced that he would enforce the requirement that students "not be allowed to leave the college limits except at certain hour in the morning and a certain hour in the afternoon." The 1879 board had also adopted several other rules and regulations that Buchanan had to enforce. One of the regulations helped put an end to the existence of the four national social fraternities then on the campus. It stated: "No student, during his connection with the college, shall belong to any secret college society, nor an association, except such as shall have been approved by the faculty; nor shall any assembly of students be held for any purpose whatever without the express permission of the president." Students were also required to subscribe to the following: "We acquiesce in the laws of this college and acknowledge our obligation to obey the same."

Meanwhile, the state legislature, in a politically motivated move on March 3, approved a resolution removing the board of visitors effective June 4 and directing that a new board be appointed. Gov. F.W.M. Holliday, a Democrat, waited to make his appointments until it was too late for the Readjusters in the senate to approve or disapprove them, as was required. The new, unconfirmed board met on June 7 and declared all of the college offices to be vacant at the end of the school year, which the board decided would end June 12.

The board met again on June 30, 1880, to reorganize the college. At this meeting it reversed the direction of the 1879 board and said: "This board conceives that it was not the design of the Assembly, or of Congress, to establish here a military school, an academic college, or a university, but an institution whose primary function should be to turn out scientific farmers and mechanics . . ." The military feature was to be reduced "within the narrowest limits consistent with federal law." The board thus returned the college to the philosophy of the Minor years; but it was not to last for long.

At its Aug. 12 meeting the board offered Buchanan the presidency again, but he turned the offer down. Then the board offered the presidency to Col. Scott Shipp, who had been commandant of cadets at Virginia Military Institute since 1862. Shipp accepted the offer and went to Blacksburg to meet with the board's executive committee on Aug. 25. At this meeting he apparently realized that the board -- not he and his faculty -- would be running the college, so he resigned "before entering upon his duties." It is also possible that he had not been aware previously of the board's earlier action in returning the college to a non-military philosophy.

At the next meeting of the board on Sept. 10, William H. Ruffner, state superintendent of public instruction, was offered the presidency. He turned the down offer, then said he would reconsider and give the board his final answer at their Nov. 20 meeting. At that meeting he turned the offer down again, probably because he feared that political interference would be intolerable. Meanwhile, Prof. John Hart had been appointed as acting president and had to preside over the college during the entire 1880-81 session.

The board's next meeting was in Blacksburg in May 1881, and the presidency was again offered to Buchanan. This time he accepted but did not begin his duties until Aug. 14. He was once again to have his tenure cut short, however, because of the political struggle in the state.

William E. Cameron, a Readjuster, was elected governor in November 1881 and was directed to appoint a new board of visitors for the college. The new board took office in January 1882, removed Buchanan, and elected Thomas N. Conrad, a Readjuster who had been a member of the college faculty since the reorganization of 1879.


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Tamara Kennelly, University Archivist
University Libraries
Virginia Tech
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Blacksburg, VA, 24062-9001

Last Modified on: Tuesday, 25-Sep-2001 08:16:06 EDT