The Experiment Goes Forth

This room/suite party registration form reads:  “…the undersigned, agree to take personal responsibility for control of this party and financial responsibility for any directly related damages or theft.  We have read and understand the ‘Experimental Policy. Alcohol Use in Residence Hall Rooms/Suites’ and agree to comply with all provisions of the policy.  In the event that violations occur, we agree to comply with a request from Residence Hall Staff to end the party.  We understand that any violation of the ‘Alcohol Use Policy’ may subject us to certain automatic fines or other penalties imposed by the Party Violation Hearing Committee.  We further understand that the decision of the Party Violation Hearing Commitee is final.”  It includes spaces for two signatures.   (The 1979 Bluestone, 28)

Students carry a partial keg up the stairs in preparation for a party  (The 1979 Bluestone, 29).

“One keg will now be allowed per 30 persons in recreation rooms, one quarter keg in an individual room, and two quarter kegs in a suite.” Guest limits vary by dorm room/suite depending on the fire code, but range between ten and fifteen.  In addition, sponsors must also serve non-alcoholic beverages at these planned events and the serving of beer stops at midnight.  Also, all parties “must be registered by 5 p.m. with the hall staff.” Furthermore, no advertising, no cover fees and “Halls are still considered public.” So, all alcohol in these areas must still be sealed (Hobbs, “Experimental,” 1).

It’s Up to Students

Confused?  By the opening of the 1978 fall semester, the new “Experimental Alcohol Policy” consumed more than three pages in the student handbook (JMU Student Handbook 1978-79, 17-19).  It increased to seven pages by the 1979 – 1980 school year as varying problems stipulated additional notations and alterations to the rules (See link below. JMU Student Handbook, 1979-80, 20-26).  The intense debates of the previous year resulted in the most complex alcohol policies the campus had implemented to date – the “Experimental Alcohol Policy” (JMU Student Handbook 1978-79, 17).

Though termed “experimental,” the policy allowed administration to send two definite messages.  First, the administration retained the right to revoke the policy at will (JMU Student Handbook 1978-79, 20).  Second, student sponsors of parties retained the responsibility for maintaining control, abiding by campus and state laws, “accept[ing] full financial responsibility for all damage[s],” cleanup and various other duties (JMU Student Handbook 1979-80, 25).  By labeling the policy “experimental” and then relinquishing a greater responsibility to students, President Carrier and his administration implemented the most progressive alcohol policy to date.

The complexity of such policies reflects the roles of responsibility in regards to students and administrators at public institutions.  As researcher Parker Young states:  “college administrators have the responsibility of maintaining a proper educational atmosphere,” along with the “responsibility to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of all on campus” (Young, 59).  On the other hand, he explains that “adult status is now accorded to those under 21 in a plurality of states” which results in colleges “filled with practically all adult students” giving them legalized rights (Young, 64).  Many believed that if an eighteen-year-old young man could wage war in Vietnam, then certainly he deserved a beer at the end of the day.  So law set precedents and college administrators worked to uphold them.  Carrier and his administration generated an alcohol policy with strings attached. They granted the student body their legally deserved freedoms, but expected them to bear the consequences of their actions.

The above cartoon reflects the complexity of the new keg policy and student body reactions. The Breeze, April 4, 1978, 2.

Did Fraternities on Campus Help or Hinder?

The 1978 changes in alcohol policies on campus also catered to the needs of fraternities, now housed in Greek Row along Newman Lake (Robertson, 156).  As William Johnson, associate director of student affairs and judicial coordinator, explained in an interview with The Breeze, “The reason we allow open fraternity parties is that [fraternities] have proven that they can control outbreaks such as fights whereas the dorms have not proven organized enough to do this” (Armstrong, “Alcohol related,” 8).  It is quite possible that the bargaining rights of students in dorms increased once fraternities relocated to campus grounds.

However in little more than a year, Johnson may have wished to backtrack on his statement about fraternity law and order.  In the fall of 1979, The Breeze reported that “Fraternities sponsor ultimate party” to welcome the new semester.  As one Interfraternity Council Publicity member explained, the problem occurred when “The taps were turned off at dusk, but the crowd was too drunk to leave.” He continued to report that just over two thousand gallons of beer was “consumed” at the rush event designated “Beginnings” (Caviness, “Beginnings,” 1-2).  One week later administrators put an end to “Beginnings” and other outdoor events.  The attendance had exceeded two thousand and fraternity members lost control violating state laws (Beale, “The End,” 1,8). Thus, negative actions of a large number of students dictated restrictions on parties.  At the end of the decade, the administration of James Madison University grappled with growing pains.


“Experimental keg policy goes into effect tomorrow” artifact in its entirety.

Student Handbook 1979-80 Alcohol Policies


Images Cited:

Cover image:  Hobbs, Karen, Experimental keg policy goes into effect tomorrow,” The Breeze, March 28, 1978. Created by Charity Derrow, in Adobe Photoshop, April 15, 2012. See above link for entire article.

1979 Bluestone, 28, Harrisonburg, Virginia:  James Madison University, 1979, Accessed 4/3/12 from Framed by Charity Derrow in PowerPoint, April 20, 2012.  The photograph has been rotated for better viewing, but it has not been altered in any other way.

1979 Bluestone, 29, Harrisonburg, Virginia:  James Madison University, 1979, Accessed 4/3/12 from Framed by Charity Derrow in PowerPoint, April 20, 2012.

“Cartoon,” The Breeze, April 4, 1978, 2. Frame created by Charity Derrow, in PowerPoint, April 4, 2012.

Works Cited:

Armstrong, Cutch, “Alcohol related problems on rise,” The Breeze, March 1, 1977.

Beale, Theresa, “The End:  Outdoor parties now banned,” The Breeze, September 18, 1979

Caviness, Teresa, “Beginnings…Or the end?” The Breeze, September 11, 1979.

Hobbs, Karen, Experimental keg policy goes into effect tomorrow,” The Breeze, March 28, 1978.

James Madison University Student Handbook 1978-79, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

James Madison University Student Handbook 1979-80, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Young, D. Parker, “Student Rights and Discipline in Higher Education,” Peabody Journal of Education 52:1 (October 1974):  58-64.