1973 Oil Crisis

In the 1974 edition of The Bluestone it stated that the

“we can now see the connection between an international event … and our daily lives”.

This post will try to explore this statement specifically looking at the impact of the Oil Crisis on campus and how they responded to events.

The Bluestone 1974 page 15. Passage from the opening essay detailing events which have helped to shape the 1973 - 1974 school year.

The Bluestone 1974 page 15. Passage from the opening essay detailing events which have helped to shape the 1973 – 1974 school year.

The 1973 Oil Crisis despite the name really had more of an effect on 1974, it began in October 1973 when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo. There economic factors about the devaluing of the dollar which oil prices are centred around that fed into this, but the trigger was that the United States backed Israel in a dispute that was occurring in the Middle East. The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries were therefore trying to reprimand America for its role in this. In 1970 the United States had reached its peak oil production this meant that the embargo had greater ramifications on Americas reaction to the event as they were having to realise their interdependence upon other countries. However the Federal governments response to this was to launch Project Independence which was an attempt to make the United States energy independent, this shows the strong isolationist feeling. As part of the greater nation wider response energy rationing was introduced, this was done on a basis of an allocation for each state based on their usage levels in 1972. The population of Virginia was growing during this period which means the effects would be exacerbated in the state, due to the fact there would be the same amount of supplies to share between more people. Although relatively speaking Virginia was not in the worst situation as it was not experiencing the extremely high levels of population growth that was being seen with States further south/west this was due to the greater trend in the 70s of a population shift to the Sunbelt that Virginia is not a part of.

The campus had to implement a number of policies to deal with this as mentioned above. Although the crisis begins in October 1973, there is no reporting of any issues at this time in The Breeze in fact there is no reporting of any international events until the 30th of October were there is a report about President Nixon’s intention to “make the world safe for Judaism” the piece reports the mixed reaction to President Nixon’s proclamation but does not offer any judgement in itself. In the edition of The Breeze there is a letter to the editor on page, outlining a course of action Madison College could follow to try to deal with the energy crisis. It opens “I would like to suggest that this college would start acting like we are in the energy crisis that we are now in.” This show how Madison College is being perceived at the time to be slow to react to wider events and it’s sort of like a bubble at this point still with things on campus staying in a point of stasis. The writer then goes on to say, “In particular, here at Madison I have seen an excessive and wasteful overuse of lights.” This would suggest that the stickers which are dated 1973, seen in the image below which are still remaining on the older buildings on campus, are not put in place till after the writing of this article and maybe they could be seen as a response to the wastefulness that the writer here highlights.

Stickers placed on the light switch, provided by [] in 1973. Can still be found on campus in the present day, in Carrier Library and Maury Hall.

Stickers placed on the light switch, provided by Suritz Sharff in 1973. Can still be found on campus in the present day, in Carrier Library and Maury Hall.

Madison College formed at Energy Conservation Committee in November to look into the ways in which they could reduce their energy usage. The main ways it found that this could be done were through:

  • A reduction in the heating levels across campus with the maximum level to which buildings could be heated to at 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Disconnecting some of the outside lights while still ensuring that student safety is maintained.
  • Madison College vechiles while be limited to maximum speed of 50 miles per hour. This is an off shoot idea from the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act which limited the speed to 55 miles per hour. For most cars a speed of around 50 miles per hour is the most energy concious hence limiting them from going any faster.
  • Buildings on campus will be inspected to see if there is any action that can be taken such as insulating, and ensuring doors and windows are properly fitting.
  • Shutting off power to unoccupied buildings

Fortunately for Madison College most of it’s energy at the time was derived from coal powered sources, and therefore the issues with gas would not have the same impact as it could have at a campus that was reliant on oil to get its energy.

In a letter to the editor in the February 22nd 1974 edition of the Breeze, another student again suggests that the actions taken by Madison College to deal with the energy crisis are not enough,

“Gasoline is very near unavailable at any price in the city of Harrisonburg … campus security continues to patrol, night and day, everyday, everywhere, every month. One can only imagine the amount of now precious gas used … I fail to see why our campus security force could not walk about their as the rest of us do. … I fail to see how writing parking tickets, which appears to be the primary function of the force, necessitates a 2 ton motor vehicle.”

Although this does appear to suggest that the author is concerned about energy use, it would moreover seem that he has a bug to bear with campus police force and this is just another way to criticize them. Parking issues were a particular sticking point between relations with student and campus police as discussed here.

After this point the situation started to lessen, obviously the changes it brought about defined the year for many as it is discussed in The Bluestone. This could be seen to fit under the comptency approach, it is obviously completley unintentional but even if the effects were unintended they did cause students to reevalute the situation.

Works Cited

James Madison University. The Bluestone. 1974. http://archive.org/details/bluestone197466jame

The Breeze, October 30 1973

The Breeze, February 22 1974