Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles written in anticipation of Navarro College’s 75th anniversary. There is a full slate of special events and activities beginning on Sept. 16, 2021 with the Bulldogs Unite Ceremony and culminating with The 75th Anniversary Gala on May 21, 2022. This year of celebration has been given the tag-line “Looking Back, Moving Forward.”
After the resignation of Dr. Kenneth Walker, Lary Reed was tapped once again to act as interim president. A committee comprised of members of the College community and local citizens was created to seek out viable candidates to fill the presidency of the college. After an extensive interviewing and screening process, the Board accepted the recommendation of the committee and offered the position to Dr. Gerald Burson. Prior to accepting the presidency at NC, Burson had been an administrator at Northern Oklahoma College.
At the beginning of the Burson administration, the college’s population was slightly more than 2,600 students, most of whom were “traditional” eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who were enrolled in the transfer academic program. However, many of those 2,600 plus students were enrolled in certificate or degree programs which, upon completion, would move them into the workplace.
In 1984, the federal government authorized the Carl Perkins Vocational Assistance Act (re-authorized in 1998, 2000, 2006 and 2018 as Perkins II, III, IV and V) aimed at increasing the quality of technical education within the United States. Another highly visible program was the Adult Basic Education Program which served undereducated adults with basic instruction in reading, writing, and math and preparation for the GED. Similarly, in 1986 the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued a report entitled “A Generation of Failure: The Case for Remediation in Texas Higher Education”. The gist of the report was that too many Texas students were underprepared for college and university work. The general population wanted more accountability from public education and to that end the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Education Code to require the development and administration of a basic skills test. Students who failed to pass the basic test, would be required to enroll in non-credit remedial classes until they could demonstrate their proficiency in the subject matter. The test was known as the Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP). Navarro had been administering assessment tests and requiring remediation for skills-deficient students prior to the TASP mandate. With more stringent demands from the State, Navarro and other Texas colleges found the number of students enrolling in remedial classes to be increasing significantly. The Developmental Studies Department became a stand-alone entity within the academic program to address the needs of students whose basic academic skills were deficient. Once again, Navarro College’s implementation and support of programs like the Carl Perkins Career Center and Adult Basic Education demonstrated the “mission statement” of the founders of the school- making higher education available to as many students as possible.
In the spring of 1996, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pearce announced a special gift to the College in the form of a collection of Civil War memorabilia they had amassed. The documents included hand-written letters from notable figures from both the Union and the Confederacy. The Pearce collection was housed in the library archives and made available to serious researchers. In 1996 work began on the Cook Center which would become the permanent home to the Pearce Collection and become well-known for its planetarium and art museum, as well.
During the Dr. Burson presidency, a number of building projects were initiated. The Albritton Administration Building was expanded to provide additional classrooms, administrative offices and faculty offices. As these projects were begun, a technological revolution was beginning with computerization and other electronic devices being implemented into everyday life. While Navarro had offered classes in other locations, those classes were usually held in local high schools or other public buildings. With the increase in students from all its service areas, Navarro established permanent locations in Ellis County, Freestone County and Limestone County. The Navarro College BiStone Center was located in Mexia through the donation of a former department store from alumnus Jon B. Holloway.
During this time, other activities, while not academic, were important to life on campus. Women’s Volleyball, Golf, Intramural sports and Coach Bob McElroy and his 1989 Bulldog football team’s National Championship (sadly, we acknowledge Coach McElroy’s passing on August 15, 2021). A new baseball complex, the Perry “Peno” Graham Field located on the west side of the campus near Drane Hall and the Walker classroom building. Navarro’s constant desire to have the best instructors was further evidenced during Dr. Burson’s tenure with the naming of Dr. Richard Miller (psychology and sociology) and Dr. Tommy Stringer (history) as the fifth and sixth Piper Professor at Navarro College. Dr. Miller was named in 1989 and Dr. Stringer in 1994.
With the Cook Center’s completion, Dr. Burson announced his intent to retire at the end of the 1997 academic year. His retirement ended a four decade career. During his time at Navarro, there had been significant advancements including new technology to the campus. Navarro’s presence in its service area was strengthened by establishing permanent locations in Waxahachie and Mexia. The makeup of the Board of Trustees had changed with the election of the first female and African American members. Another chapter in the rich history of Navarro College closed with Dr. Burson’s retirement.
Acknowledgement and special thanks is given to Dr. Tommy Stringer whose book, WE ARE NAVARRO! A history of Navarro College was used in the preparation of this article.
If you are or if you know the whereabouts of a former Mr. or Miss NJC or other homecoming royalty OR if you have NJC memorabilia you are willing to lend to the college for display, please contact the college at firstname.lastname@example.org or you may call Michelle Smith at 903-875-7337.