Dr. Burnett took office as the tenth president of Washington & Jefferson College on July 1, 1970. He was inaugurated April 3, 1971. He was born on October 14, 1929, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in 1952 with Magna Cum Laude honors in political science. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa national honorary society. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied at Oxford University where he was awarded B.A. and M.A. degrees in philosophy, politics, and economics. In 1965 he earned a Ph.D. in government and international relations from New York University. He also was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by Ithaca College in the same year. Before coming to W & J he was president of the College Center of the Finger Lakes (1964-1970) and assistant to the president at Corning Community College as well as Assistant Professor of Government (1962-1964). His background includes business experience and military service.
Dr. Burnett's first year in office witnessed historic milestones at W & J. In addition to admitting women undergraduates, the College selected its first women faculty members and named a woman as an Associate Dean of Student Personnel. The school also adopted a new 4-1-4 term schedule, two four-month semesters and an independent study program in January. A woman was named to the Board of Trustees for the first time in the history of the College in 1975.
The Bicentennial Development Program led to the construction of the Dieter-Porter Life Sciences Building, dedicated in 1981, and the Olin Fine Arts Center, completed in 1982. Rossin Campus Center opened in 1995. The College also acquired and renovated the W & J Alumni House (now the Admissions House), restored and renovated Thompson Memorial and McMillan Halls, added several residence facilities, and opened the Student Resource Center (now the ITS Building). During Dr. Burnett's tenure, the College launched several new programs, including the Entrepreneurial Studies Program, the Freshman Forum, and cooperative international education programs with institutions in England, Colombia and Russia. Student enrollment grew from 830 in 1970 to 1,100 in 1998.
During the 1980-81 academic year Dr. Burnett presided over the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the educational academies, which became Washington & Jefferson College. He retired as president effective June 30, 1998, ending one of the nation's longest presidential tenures at 28 years of service.
Photograph courtesy of Observer Publishing Company.