Paul S. Burgess, dean of the College of Agriculture, agreed to serve in a temporary role as acting president of the University of Arizona after Homer L. Shantz left. By October, no replacement had been selected, so the Board of Regents appointed Burgess to be the 11th president of the University. He accepted the position but expressed an adamant desire to return to the deanship.
Born in Providence, R.I., Burgess had a doctorate from the University of California. Before he came to the University in 1924, he was associated with the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rhode Island State College (which became the University of Rhode Island in 1951). By 1931, he was both dean of the College of Agriculture and director of the experiment station at the University.
In the year Burgess served as president, an experimental farm was established in the Gila Valley. He was fair-minded in dealing with problems of faculty unrest over depression-era salary cuts, student protests over compulsory ROTC, and an investigation by a committee of the American Association of University Professors over academic tenure.
The year 1936 saw the completion of the Chemistry-Physics Building. In April 1937, the formal opening of the University’s new auditorium took place. It seated about 3,000. The building was the site for commencement exercises in 1937, the only year commencement was held there.
Resigning two weeks before commencement, Burgess recommended the Arizona Board of Regents pursue Alfred Atkinson of Montana State College as his successor.
Burgess returned to the College of Agriculture as dean, left after one year to go back to Rhode Island State College as dean of their College of Agriculture, then returned to Arizona in 1939. He held the dean of agriculture position until 1951, when he stepped down to work part time as an agricultural chemist with the experiment station. He retired in 1954.
He lived in Rhode Island during his last years, visiting Tucson several times. He was 82 when he died in Kingston, R.I., in 1968.