Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

John Burness '67

John F. Burness became Interim President of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., on July 1, 2010. A seven-year Trustee of Franklin & Marshall, Burness will lead the College until the 15th president of the College is appointed and takes office.

Burness is on leave from his position as Visiting Professor of the Practice of Public Policy at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy of the Terry Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, Durham, N.C. His areas of interest include media and higher education, higher education and the federal government, the relationship between universities and their host communities, and crisis communications.

Prior to joining the Sanford School, Burness was for 17 years Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Duke, where he directed the offices responsible for the University’s federal, state, and local government relations programs and community affairs, the campus office of news and communications, and photographic services. Burness also oversaw offices responsible for Duke Medicine communications, government relations and community affairs.

The offices reporting to Burness garnered numerous national awards for excellence during his tenure – for newswriting, research and science reporting, internal communications and community affairs programs.

Throughout his career, Burness has been a leading advocate for academic freedom and the First Amendment. In 2008 he was elected an honorary life member of the North Carolina Press Association, the first non-newspaper person so honored in the NCPA’s 125-year history.

Prior to assuming the newly created position of senior vice president at Duke in 1991, Burness was the senior public affairs officer at three leading research universities – Cornell University, the University of Illinois, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. From 1986-1990 Burness was the first incumbent of the vice presidency for university relations at Cornell. From 1981-83 he was Director of Public Affairs at Illinois, and in 1984 he was promoted to the new position of Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs.  From 1970-1980 Burness served in a number of capacities at Stony Brook, first as Assistant to the President and later as Deputy to the President for University Affairs and Secretary of the Stony Brook Council, the campus’ gubernatorially appointed governing board.

A 1967 graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, where he was president of the student government and on the Dean’s List, Burness has done graduate work at Stony Brook and Boston University, and pursued doctoral study in higher education management at the University of Maryland. While at Maryland, he worked on a national study on the future of the land grant university funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Burness has testified before the United States Congress and state legislatures. He is a founding member of the steering committee of The Science Coalition, a consortium of some 400 organizations that promotes investment in university-government partnerships for scientific research. A past member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) Council on Federal Relations, Burness was the founding chair of AAU’s Public Affairs Committee. He has been a director of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and served as chairman for several years of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education’s (COFHE) Public Issues Committee, and on COFHE’s board of directors. He also co-chaired the Ad Hoc Tax Group, a consortium of educational institutions that monitors federal tax policy affecting universities and other not-for-profit organizations. Burness has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Committee on Institutional Relations, The College Board’s Government Relations Advisory Panel and the Tuition Plan Consortium, which manages the Independent 529 Plan for more than 270 member private colleges and universities.

A trustee of Durham Technical Community College, Burness also served on the Eisenhower Foundation Fellows Selection Committee and the Advisory Board of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, prior to his retirement as senior vice president. In 2009 he was awarded a RIAS Commission Fellowship in Berlin, Germany.

Burness has been a consultant to a number of research enterprises, universities, and higher education associations, including the Association of American Colleges, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, The Ohio State University, Stanford University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, University of Texas, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He has lectured at numerous American colleges and at higher education and press organizations, including The College Board, the Council of Learned Societies, The Freedom Forum Center for Media Studies, and The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Burness headed Duke’s nationally recognized Neighborhood Partnership, where Duke established partnerships with 12 neighborhoods near its campus and the seven public schools that serve them. In 2004, he received the Samuel DuBois Cook Award for his efforts to support racial justice and collaborations between Duke and the Durham community. When he retired from his administrative post in 2008, Duke University’s Board of Trustees created an endowment in Burness’ name to support the programs of the Neighborhood Partnership.

Among his civic activities, Burness has been particularly active in K-12 education.  He was the founding chairman of the Board of Directors of the Durham Communities In Schools dropout-prevention program.  In 2001, he co-chaired the successful $74 million Durham County bond campaign, which included $51 million in new facilities for the public schools. He served on the Durham Public Schools’ Quality Council and was a director of the Durham Public Education Network.

In 2002 he received the Josephine Clement Award for Exemplary Community Leadership for Public Education in Durham. In 2008, the Durham Public Schools named the science center at E.K. Powe Elementary School after him. 

Burness is a director of MDC, a Chapel Hill, N.C., organization that focuses on making a difference in communities in the South by expanding opportunity, reducing poverty and building inclusive civic cultures. He is a past treasurer of the United Way of Greater Durham, and served for several years as a director of the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science and as a founding director of Downtown Durham, Inc. Burness is also a past director of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. He is a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Burness is also senior counsel and a member of the Higher Education Advisory Panel of Widmeyer Communications.

A resident of Durham, N.C., Burness is married to Anne D. Williams. They have two children, Evan, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and Sam, a 2010 graduate of Duke University School of Law.

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