Burson Building honors pioneering dean

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sherman Burson Jr. was the first Charles Stone Professor of Chemistry and the inaugural dean of the-then College of Arts and Sciences.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Burson was born Christmas Eve 1923. His father, a Methodist minister, moved the family to Massachusetts, where Burson graduated from Harwich High School. Uncertain of his career goals, Burson considered becoming a surgeon, psychologist or medical researcher.

With little money for college, Burson took the advice of his high school principal and moved South where college costs were lower. He spent the 1941-42 academic year at the University of Alabama. When money ran out, he returned to Pennsylvania, where he worked in a steel mill during the day and attended the University of Pittsburgh at night.  World War II was under way, and Burson entered the U.S. Army. A special program enabled him to continue studies at Louisiana State University; following the war, he returned to the University of Pittsburgh, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned a doctorate in 1953.

sherman bursonIn 1957, after nearly five years in private industry, Burson decided to pursue a career in academia. He joined the faculty of Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer. At the urging of Charlotte College founder Bonnie Cone, Burson accepted a position at the institution. He was a professor of chemistry and chair of the department when Charlotte College became the fourth campus of the University of North Carolina in 1965. It was under Burson that the department achieved accreditation from the American Chemical Society.

UNC Charlotte’s first chancellor, Dean Colvard, appointed Burson acting dean of the College of Science and Mathematics in 1973, and in 1980, Chancellor E.K. Fretwell named him dean of the newly formed College of Arts and Sciences (now the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences), formed by the merger of the College of Science and Mathematics with the College of Humanities and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Burson held this post until retiring in June 1985. He died Dec. 3, 2012.

Completed in summer 1985, the Sherman L. Burson Building was originally dedicated as the Physical Sciences Building. The 104,000-square-foot facility includes a 184-seat tiered lecture hall, a number of smaller lecture halls and laboratory space. Designed by Peterson Associates of Charlotte, the building was constructed by Butler and Sidbury Inc. for a little more than $8 million. At the time of its re-dedication in April 1999, the building was noted for its planetarium platform mounted on vibration-resistant pedestals, an underground Van de Graaf linear accelerator in the basement and reinforced concrete radiation labs.

The building’s design won a national architectural award and was included in the American School and Universities Architectural Portfolio for 1986.