A crowd of nearly 100 students, faculty and staff participated in an April 4 ceremony at the University of Mississippi to honor Sheryl and Roland Burns of Frisco, Texas, for their legacy of support with the naming of a premier campus residence hall and the new football team meeting room in the Manning Performance Center.
The Burnses have given generously to support both academic and athletics programs, with their recent $2 million gift elevating their lifetime giving to more than $5 million. Roland Burns, a 1982 graduate who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in accountancy, says it is humbling to see his family's name on the building.
"It is not anything I ever thought I would see," Burns said. "It is a really attractive building and there is a lot of history here (on this campus). We are so proud to be associated with Ole Miss and the School of Accountancy; it has been such an outstanding program."
The Public Accounting Report, the independent newsletter of the accounting profession, recently rated UM's undergraduate accountancy program as No. 4 in the country (behind Texas, Illinois and Brigham Young) and the master's and doctoral programs at Nos. 5 and 8, respectively. The accountancy programs are No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference.
Burns Hall, which has been temporarily known as Ridge South, stands on the site of the former Miller Hall. Burns Hall opened in August 2012 and is one of three new residence halls on that site. The four-story structure houses 272 students and provides a shared courtyard and many of the amenities requested by students, including private bathrooms, microwaves, refrigerators in each room, study rooms, community kitchens, laundry facilities and lounges with TVs on each floor.
"Today, the residence halls are an extension of the learning experience, and when we talk about the Ole Miss family, it's important that we know our family comes home here every night," said Brandi Hephner Labanc, UM vice chancellor of student affairs. "We see this as a wonderful extension of our academic environment, and we are grateful to the Burnses for being involved in the living-learning experience here."
With a growth in enrollment on the Oxford campus from 9,412 in the fall of 1982 to 18,423 in fall 2013, much has changed since Burns graduated. The former Kincannon Hall resident noted that the housing looks quite different than when he was a student here.
It was a visit from UM Provost Morris Stocks, who at the time was the new dean of the School of Accountancy, and Debbie Vaughn, senior executive director of development, that reinvigorated Burns' connection to the university. They visited Burns in Texas, where he is president and chief financial officer of Comstock Resources Inc. Stocks asked Burns to create an intern program in his company's financial reporting department that would provide opportunity for Ole Miss undergraduate students.
"Morris got us interested by showing us the success the (accountancy) program is having on the national level, and that gave us a deep sense of pride," said Burns, who transferred from Mississippi State after his freshman year to join the then-new accountancy school in its first year of programs set apart from the School of Business Administration.
"Being a part of something new made all of us know we were part of something special. Giving back through the internship program and in other ways is really rewarding to us, and we are grateful to be included as part of the Ole Miss family."
This was the second time in a year that a campus building has been named for a Patterson School alumnus. Another of the Ridge residence halls was named last spring for alumnus Lucian Minor.
"There is much to celebrate today, as we are so grateful to Roland and Sheryl for their continued dedication to the university," said Chancellor Dan Jones. "They support us financially and today, they are lending us their name, and what a great thing for the university to be associated with their name."
Stocks praised the Burnses for their holistic approach to support for the university.
"The Burnses have continued to support our school and our university in many ways, including the Burns Chair in Accountancy," Stocks said. "Outside of the major public accounting firms, (Roland) has also recruited more accountancy students to our program and formed an internship program at his company that is critical to our program. The Burnses' lend constant moral support to our efforts to transform lives. We are a better place because Roland chose to attend Ole Miss."
During a ceremony held the same day, Ole Miss Athletics honored the Burnses with the naming of the football team's new meeting room. That naming took place in conjunction with the ribbon-cutting for the newly-renovated Indoor Practice Facility, now called the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center.
"Sheryl and Roland support excellence in academics and support academics in athletics equally, making sure that we move forward together," Jones added. "They are making a big difference in the lives of students in their local community and here. We are so grateful to them."
Along with family friends, the Burnses were joined by their sons Derek, an Ole Miss graduate student in accountancy who earned a bachelor's degree here in 2013; and Tyler, an Ole Miss freshman majoring in biology with a minor in accountancy. Their daughter, Stephanie, is a graduate of Southern Methodist University.