“Mickey Madison”: Opposition to Expansion
While there was large support for Carrier on the Madison College, he did have his opponents. The Breeze often published opinion letters either written by the newspapers writers or sent in by fellow students. In a series of memorable articles, Gregory Byrne, writer for The Breeze, wrote of how Madison College was bought by Walt Disney Productions and that all of the changes at Madison were a result of the campus being changed into a resort spot. The main complaints behind the article were the increased number of students who had come to Madison and that while $3.5 million was being spent on a new science building, Maury Hall was falling down and badly in need of renovations (Byrne). The article also poked fun at the new Astroturf by explaining that it was to be used for the “Minnie Mouse Parade Grounds (Byrne).
Byrne continued this theme in an article published in The Breeze on September 9th, 1974 titled “Mickey Madison II: Hound of Harrisonburg”. The article claims that Disney has backed out of developing the campus into a theme park, but the college has decided to go through with the plans anyway, reworking it into “Duke’s Doggie World”. This article coincides with the development of the Duke Dog mascot that had been created during the 1972-1973 school year. It criticized the $12 million spent on new parking signs and the $6 million spent on new bushes as ways in which visitors would be attracted to the new theme park. Chandler Hall would be the place for “Dogs of Many Nations”, but would not be open in time due to issues in which Israel and Egypt were fighting over who would be represented by the wolf-hound, alluding to the conflict going on between Israel and Egypt. The article also alluded to the conflict going in Ireland by stating that they were unable to decide if the Irish setter that would represent them should be Catholic or Protestant, but that the setter had been blown up by a phosphorous grenade. Despite this brief commentary on world issues, this article still focuses on criticizing Carrier for the money he had been spending on projects that were viewed as unnecessary and not spending on projects that would actually be beneficial.
One of the more controversial projects that Dr. Carrier approved was the installation of an Astroturf field in Madison Stadium. The story behind the funds for the Astroturf can also be viewed as controversial. Carrier knew that an Astroturf field would be beneficial to the new football team, but his excuse to the General Assembly that the existing field was unusable for students to play on after heavy rains was not accepted. Carrier then “had the field flooded and then asked fraternity member to play football on the muddy field”. A JMU photographer took pictures of the event and sent them in to the General Assembly, who decided to give Madison the money necessary to lay down the new Astroturf field. It became known as “Ron’s Rug” and Madison was the first Virginia college to play its home football games on an artificial field (Hilton, 60). There were many criticisms of this decision, as shown in the comic above. Many felt that the football program was too new and not good enough to justify this expenditure.
While these two examples had comical elements, there were other, more serious articles sent in to the Breeze criticizing the choices of the administration. In an article by Tom Mulhearn on September 21, 1973, he argues that while Madison has grown, it has not achieved any positive progress. Facilities were inadequate for the new influx of students and class sizes were increasing, which meant less faculty-student interactions. He also criticizes the $800 thousand spent on the Astroturf that could have been spent on more needed things. He also asserts that there is no need for a football team due to the already strong athletic program at Madison College. Mulhearn states that the growth for growth’s sake does not necessarily entail positive progress and that Madison needs to remedy this issue.
In a letter submitted to the editor on January 22, 1974 entitled “Administrative Decision Making Questioned”, Al Green questions many of the decisions of the administration in placing certain projects as having higher priority than others. He asserts that the administration prioritized the laying down of the Astroturf first, when Maury Hall badly needed to be renovated and a new building for the School of Education needed to be built. He argues that the student body is “getting the shaft” from the administration and that they should have a voice in the changes that were being made to the campus.
While it may seem like many on campus were against Dr. Carrier and the administration, there were some who wrote in to The Breeze defending their decisions. The Breeze featured a letter to the editor on September 29, 1972 that was written in response to the possibility of Carrier filling the presidency of Memphis State University. It states that Carrier has brought to campus “a truly dynamic energy that can be seen throughout Madison”. He has made himself available to students and “has struggled to instill a far greater purpose for Madison”. The author also argues that, despite claims to the contrary, academic and social problems are being addressed but are harder to remedy than other concerns, which is why it is taking long to see real change in these areas.
While some did write in to The Breeze with criticisms of Carrier and his administration, many still supported their decisions. The issue that needs to be kept in mind is that someone is much more likely to complain about an administration than praise, which can possibly explain these letters. The support that Carrier did have, however, is evident through the success of many of his programs, the affectionate way many students on campus viewed “Uncle Ron”, and the profound changes that occurred at Madison throughout the decade.
Byrne, Gregory. “Mickey Madison.” The Breeze, October 9, 1973.
Byrne, Gregory. “Mickey Madison II: Hound of Harrisonburg.” The Breeze. September 6, 1974.
Hilton, Fred. “Changing from a College to a University: Madison College to James Madison University, 1971-1977.” Master’s thesis, James Madison University, 1996.
Green, Al. “Administrative Decision Making Questioned.” The Breeze. January 22, 1974
Gurne, Loren. “Letter to the Editor.” The Breeze. September 29, 1972.
Mulhearn, Thomas. ‘The Price of Campus Growth.” The Breeze. September 21, 1973.