Paul Brandon Barringer, 1907-13

Paul Brandon Barringer
Paul Brandon Barringer

North Carolinian Paul Brandon Barringer, who held an M.D. degree from the University of Virginia, was a professor and former chairman of the faculty at his alma mater when the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute Board of Visitors appointed him president of the Blacksburg college. He assumed his new duties on September 1, 1907.

At the time, agitation for better public education, and particularly for agricultural education, was at a fever pitch in Virginia. The superintendent of public instruction, Joseph D. Eggleston, did not think that VPI’s program in agricultural education was reaching enough people or was involved enough in improving rural life. Barringer himself did not believe his school’s program was on a college level, and in immediately announcing his intention to build up the agricultural side of the college, he alienated the engineering side. But in carrying out his intention during his presidency, he still supported the engineering department, sometimes in the face of demands to eliminate the department altogether from the college offerings.

During his first year in office, Barringer held a livestock reduction sale, which created a number of problems for VPI, including lawsuits, when diseased cattle were sold. The following year, another sale, this time including diseased hogs, created similar difficulties. Also early in his administration, a decision by the state legislature to move the state geological survey from VPI to the University of Virginia initiated alumni hostility toward Barringer, who had not made known his opposition to the move.

As president, Barringer worked to reorganize VPI into an industrial institute, dropped the preparatory department, added a one-month winter course for farmers and a short course for young farmers, placed the graduate program on the same administrative level as the other departments, dropped the general science degree, increased entrance requirements, established a new class schedule, abolished the executive council of deans, set up field experiment stations, established a professorship in forestry, and added programs in chemical and agricultural engineering.

He also extended self government to the students, encouraged formulation of an honor code, kept an open-door policy with students, unsuccessfully proposed limiting the military component to freshmen and sophomores, saw basketball added to the athletic program, expanded and upgraded the athletic field, and added a powerful whistle on campus to encourage professors to dismiss classes in time for students to get to their next classes.

He strongly supported “moving schools of agriculture,” a project begun under President McBryde and sponsored by VPI, the State Department of Agriculture and Immigration, and some of the railroads. These schools, which were special trains fitted by VPI staff as agriculture laboratories, moved from community to community as requested by local leaders. He lost funding for the schools late in his administration.

Barringer’s blunt responses to a number of queries about various situations that arose during his term angered many factions, who sometimes pushed, successfully, for investigations or hearings. Although the president was always cleared of charges, he began to hear rumors in late 1911 that he was being persecuted to push him out of office so that Eggleston could move in.

Disagreements with the governor did not help his situation. Believing the governor was appointing new members to the board of visitors who would get rid of him, Barringer submitted his resignation on July 2, 1912. The board asked him to continue in office until July 1, 1913, which he did. During his last official commencement exercises, fire destroyed the Preston and Olin Building, the building in which VAMC had begun.