elevated college from 'reform school'
Eagle Staff Writer
Sullivan Ross were remembered only as the great teenaged Indian
fighter who grew up on the Texas frontier, his place in the state’s
lore may very well be secure.
The same could
hold true were he known only as a Texas Ranger, a 24-year-old general
in the Confederate Army, or as the governor of Texas.
But it was his
time as president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of
Texas — a period that lasted seven and a half years, until his death
— that made him as big a part of history at Texas A&M; University
as any figure to set foot on the school’s campus.
record, every newspaper obituary written after his death, and every
A&M; historian will point to a common belief. It is a statement that
is backed by so much evidence it has become more gospel than matter
of opinion in the years following his death: “Sully,” as he is known
to Aggies everywhere, saved Texas A&M.;
After his term
as governor ended in 1890, Ross turned down a chance to become a
senator in Washington in order to accept the job of president at
the state’s struggling 14-year-old land-grant institution.
He arrived in
College Station to find that “everything looked cheerless.” The
campus had no running water, a housing shortage, a disgruntled faculty,
and a wild, unruly student body. It had acquired the reputation
as a “reform school” for its incorrigible boys.
in the Galveston Daily News, the state’s oldest and largest newspaper
at the time of Ross’ presidency, went so far as to suggest that
the school’s agricultural and mechanical departments be transferred
to Austin and the remaining infrastructure be used as a “Central
Texas lunatic asylum.” The feeling was that there was no need for
two colleges in the state of Texas.
But Ross’ reputation
as both a soldier and governor soon earned him the respect of those
on campus and persuaded those who felt best to close the school
sending their sons to Sul Ross — the Agricultural and Mechanical
College of Texas just happened to be where Ross could be found.
Ross encouraged students to have pride in their school.
tenure, the Aggie ring was created, the Aggie Band formed, the Olio
— A&M;’s first yearbook — was printed and the first intercollegiate
football game was played — against the University of Texas at Austin.
It was also
during his term that the Corps of Cadets made its first trips, traveling
to San Antonio, Houston and the San Jacinto Battlefield.
Ross was so
well-respected that one of the Corps’ elite groups, the Scott Volunteers,
changed its name to the Ross Volunteers. More than 110 years later,
the name remains the same and the group’s outstanding reputation
is known throughout the nation.
By the time
of Ross’ death on Jan. 3, 1898, he had transformed the college.
A Houston Press article written more than 50 years after Ross’ death
stated that A&M;’s once insubordinate students — and the school’s
reputation — for the first time resembled Ross the man and the words
of his own epitaph: “Soldier, Statesman, Knightly Gentleman.”
The day after
Ross died, an editorial appeared in the Galveston Daily News remembering
his contributions to Texas.
“As a Confederate
Soldier, he was brave and true; as a legislator, he was faithful
to his constituents and to the state’s best interest; as a member
of the constitutional convention of 1875, he was an earnest worker
and wise counselor; as governor of Texas, he gave the state the
best and most prosperous administration in its history; as president
of the state agricultural and mechanical college, he has rendered
services the value of which will be reflected in the manhood and
character of generations to come.”
tell you that value still is reflected.
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