category: Faculty Emeriti - Presidents

George Jackson Burnett

Fifth President, 1936-1939

George Jackson Burnett, born in December 1874 in Auburn, Ky., became the fifth president of the college, beginning with the 1936-1937 school year at a salary of $2,000. Burnett, based on previous experience, was one of the best-qualified persons to have been president of the college. He held the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Bethel College in Tennessee. He served as the first president of Tennessee College for Women (1907-1923), president (1915-1917) of the Tennessee Baptist State Convention, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and for three and a half years served as associate secretary of the Brotherhood of the Southern Baptist Convention. These experiences were the type which the trustees looked for, particularly his previous experience as a college president and his experience in working with the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to Burnett, if he could strengthen the churches, they would be in a position to put the college into their budgets, and the college’s needs would therefore be met. During the fall of 1936, Burnett conducted a stewardship revival and led the Boiling Springs Baptist Church to adopt a unified budget and worked with many other churches in the development of such a budget.

The president’s wife was very active as well. She served as coach for the debate and forensic teams and at one time served as president of the North Carolina Junior College Forensics Society. These teams, according to newspaper articles, performed extremely well in their competitions. Mrs. Burnett also directed several dramatic productions and sometimes spoke in chapel. President and Mrs. Burnett worked as a team. Financial problems and plans to become a member of the Southern Association of Colleges were still issues at that time.

One tragedy brought about many changes—the burning of the Memorial Building (now E.B. Hamrick Hall). This left only the Huggins-Curtis Building, the Barn (men’s residence hall), the gymnasium, and a home for the faculty. Adjustments had to be made quickly for classes and residence hall space. This situation brought a strong need for more buildings on campus, which led to the question of finances.

There was some disagreement between Burnett and the trustees regarding finances, and much of this was brought about by strain placed on both parties. Some of the financial problems centered on salaries. There was pressure from the president regarding professors’ salaries.

Burnett understood the needs of the school and had a vision for the institution. To meet the standards of accreditation, President Burnett stated, “…the right kind of students, the character of the education given them, the spiritual life of the students, and a positive contribution by the denomination to the school were necessary.” He said, “We must not give counterfeit education.”

J.L. Lovelace of Boiling Springs was hired (July 4, 1938) without Burnett’s knowledge to assist the president in the financial areas. According to Burnett, the college could not afford to hire another person, so he resigned. The trustees did not accept his resignation. Later, however, Burnett resigned a second time to be effective on March 1, 1939; the trustees accepted the resignation this time.

Burnett said to the Gardner-Webb trustees, “I have enjoyed the two and one-half years here, and I wish I were 20 years younger…There is a great opportunity for building a strong junior college in this county.”

Several positive things were emphasized and/or accomplished in the Burnett era:

  • The churches of the association had been strengthened by the introduction of the unified budget plan and, in turn, the college was strengthened.
  • The president had kept before its supporters the goals and purpose of the school.
  • Internal record-keeping of the college was improved.
  • On Sept. 30, 1937, the Green River Baptist Association voted to join the Kings Mountain and Sandy Run Associations in support of the college.

An article in The Shelby Star stated, “During his two years as president, Burnett has worked faithfully and effectively in bringing the school to the forefront and making it a real educational force in the community.”

After leaving Boiling Springs, Burnett went to Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C., as field representative in the public relations department.

Sources: The Shelby Star and other newspaper articles.

– Cothenia and Lansford Jolley, 1994

  • Revised Noel T. Manning II, May 2022

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