President, Washington College, 1836-1848
After 17 years on the faculty and two terms as acting president, Ruffner was unanimously appointed to the post by the trustees in 1836. He was born in 1790 in Shenandoah County, Va., to a German-Swiss family. He graduated from Washington College in 1813. A Presbyterian minister, he saw character development as the central purpose of education. Ruffner introduced to the college an annual report and weekly faculty meetings. He also faced the evolution of the neighboring Virginia Military Institute into a college. Concerns regarding the growth of a public, rival institution abounded, and opponents urged a focus on much-needed elementary education. Previously, Washington College and VMI were connected through the Washington College appointment of a professor of military science to VMI. In 1845, Ruffner proposed a merger to the trustees, who declined it. In 1846, the two schools severed formal ties and elected to compete as respected peers. Late in Ruffner's appointment, he, along with several other Washington College faculty members, took on a local minister, John Skinner, who took issue with what he viewed as Ruffner's refusal to teach the gospel. The debate became public and intertwined with local politics. While Skinner was eventually voted out of the position, Ruffner resigned at the height of the dispute.