A man for all reasons

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison’s Montpelier

“Most of all, Madison loved the conversation,” David Waldstreicher told a capacity crowd during a lecture, “Madison, Slavery and the Constitution,” Wednesday evening.

President James Madison was a man of contrasts and conflicts, a man who was impossible to categorize, but who balanced ideas and competing interests with a dogged determination to find workable solutions. He was a man of complexity, compromise and pragmatism  — a man for all reasons.

Professor Waldstreicher, a historian of early and 19th century America and member of the faculty of Temple University, delivered the lecture as part of JMU’s Inauguration Week. His lecture and Tuesday’s lecture on Dolley Madison by University of Virginia scholar Holly Schulman were sponsored by the Rocco Forum.

Madison clearly had moral objections to slavery, Waldstreicher said. It was clear from his writings that he “had the ability to see slaves’ nature.” Yet Madison was a realist who understood that the institution of slavery was so deeply woven into the country’s fabric that removing it was difficult, and in the end, impossible during Madison’s era.

David Waldstreicher lectures on President James Madison, slavery and the Constitution

David Waldstreicher lectures on President James Madison, slavery and the Constitution

Slavery was a moral problem with complicated ties to the individual states’ economic systems, social institutions and political frameworks. Would slaves, for instance, equate to more representation? Or more taxation? Different states and statesmen approached with widely differing perspectives. Madison, however, saw the need to balance competing interests. Majority rights vs. minority rights. Slave states vs. non-slave states. States’ rights vs. federal interests.

In navigating these complex issues required to untangle the institution of slavery from the societies and interests with which it was inextricably entwined, Madison excelled. He understood that slavery was “not just a moral problem, but a political problem.”

For instance, Waldstreicher said, in crafting the Constitution, the slavery clause was “a necessary evil” and the three-fifths clause (the measure to count slaves, which Madison proposed in March, 1783) was “the best that could be done.” Neither perfect — nor a step backward. Madison’s great talent was the ability to seek the necessary and the attainable over the perfect and impossible. Waldstreicher said, “The Constitution’s values are Madison’s values.”

When the Constitution was completed, it was an imperfect document that neither solved slavery nor preserved it forever. “In the end, I think,” Waldstreicher said, “Madison was comfortable with that.”

Waldstreicher also said that the failure of the Constitution to end slavery probably led to the Civil War, yet during Madison’s era the compromises struck were sufficient so that “in his lifetime, the center did hold.” It was enough for the time.

While Madison is often called the Father of the Constitution, Waldstreicher said that is too simple. The Constitution, after all, was hammered out through political wrangling, debate and compromise — a difficult, complex process mixing serious and volatile issues. Success required creativity of thought and vision, both Madison’s great strengths.

It was Madison’s ability to see all sides of issues and to reason for the good of the nation that is his great legacy. Madison, the politician and the pragmatist, was always interested in the inquiry — and what better exemplar is there for a university.

You can learn and see much more of the Inauguration events on JMU’s Inauguration website.

A change in the weather

October carriage rides in JMU’s arboretum

Today, the air is cold and damp, a clear departure from September’s warm days. A change in the weather. Leaves on the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains aren’t as blue as they were a few weeks ago. They are beginning to turn gold and red and yellow. It’s time for Ugg boots and North Face® jackets to come out of the closets all over campus. It’s the season where the walk to class becomes a brisk exercise in endurance. I passed one student this morning wearing a long coat, a scarf — and sandals. Clearly, we’re in a season of transition. October is a month of change.

I’ve often wondered why NorthFace is so ubiquitous around campus. It may be symbolic, though. The founders of North Face chose their company name  (according to Wikipedia) because the north face is generally the most difficult side of a mountain to climb. Ninety-four years ago this month, the campus was grappling with just such a challenge. The Spanish Flu, a worldwide epidemic that eventually killed more than 20 million people, had come to the Shenandoah Valley. Many fell ill on campus, including then-President Burruss. Classes were cancelled for two weeks and students unaffected were sent home. According to historian L. Sean Crowley, however, the faculty never left. Instead, they volunteered to stay and help.

“Although 125 of the 288 students enrolled for the quarter and over half of the twenty ­three faculty members who were on campus at the time fell ill during the outbreak, remarkably, there were no deaths.”*

A few years later, in October of 1924, the change was technological. That year, an election year like 2012, students could benefit from a significant advance.

“In the fall of 1924, … the student body received a superheterodyne radio for its own use. … the students themselves could tune in to hear political speeches, sermons, educational programs, and musical entertainment.”*

In 1938’s October, a significant change began with a groundbreaking. Dirt was turned to begin the building of a new library. Today students know it as Carrier Library.

Eight Octobers later, the change was in recreation. In 1946, “the male students organized the school’s first male sports team – a seventeen ­man basketball squad named the Madison Dukes. The name “Dukes” had been chosen unanimously by the team both to honor the school’s president, Dr. Samuel P. Duke, and also hopefully, according to Walter Eye who played forward on the team, to encourage Dr. Duke to ‘fork over some money to buy balls and equipment.’”*

And if you think football first started at Madison in the 1970s, think again. It was in October 1947 when President Duke first allowed football to be played on campus. According to Crowley, the teams of male students, sponsored by sororities were the

“1) ASA Raiders (Alpha Sigma Alpha) 2) PiKapCommodores(PiKappaSigma) 3) Sigma Dynamos (Sigma Sigma Sigma) 4) Tau Terrors (Alpha Sigma Tau). 5) Theta Thugs (Theta Sigma Upsilon)”*

Sixty years ago, in October 1952, the size of the campus quadrupled when Madison College purchased 240 acres of the “back campus,”  providing the land where Bridgeforth Stadium and Newman Lake would someday be built.

This October is more of the same: change. The weather and the leaves are changing, and a great way to enjoy both is on a carriage ride in the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. Another election year rolls along with change, one way or another, in the air. A new Madison president is presiding. A new class, the class of 2016, is settling in and digging out their North Face jackets.  Change, as always, is the status quo at Madison.

And perhaps, it it never more visible than it is in every October.

The historical information herein comes from  James Madison University: 1908-­1909 to 1958-­1959  An Annotated, Historical Timeline researched and written by L. Sean Crowley 2006.

This is your brain on football

Steve James (’77) in the promo for Head Games

What comes to mind when you think football? The thrill of watching your team score? Screaming crowds? Ridiculous pass returns? Spectacular touchdowns? Brutal tackles?

How about traumatic encephalopathy? No? Well, maybe you should. Steve James would like you to consider it.

Documentary filmmaker and JMU alumnus Steve James (’77) recently released a new documentary, Head Games, in which he explores the impact of traumatic encephalopathy — concussive head trauma — in sports. To often, this is the brain on football, especially for the players from PeeWee leagues to the NFL.

The subject of head trauma, explored in the film partially through the lives of those injured by repeated concussions, is a subject long ignored but now is making its way into our national conversation. Given our sports-obsessed culture, it’s a topic that needs to be discussed. Head Games is providing a platform.

Recently interviewed by Bill Littlefield for NPR’s weekend feature, Only a game, James said: “This film will help us all understand a bit more out in the real world what’s at stake, what we know, what we don’t know. (It will) help parents make informed decisions.”

The subject of concussions and head trauma is controversial. It stirs emotions. The cause has supporters and detractors because it strikes at the very heart of competitive contact sports. Head Games looks at what can happen when the brain is traumatized. It is informative, sometimes frightening, but like all good documentary films, it makes you think.

James had done it before. For his earlier films, James has won the Director’s Guild of America award, a Peabody, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award, and an Oscar nod for Hoop Dreams — not to mention the  Ronald E. Carrier Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. From the JMU Alumni Associaion website:

“His breakthrough documentary Hoop Dreams (1994) won nearly every major critical award and brought James the MTV Movie Award for “Best New Filmmaker.” For his next documentary titled Stevie (2002), James retuned to Southern Illinois to reconnect with a boy he mentored 10 years earlier as a “Big Brother.” The film won festival awards at Sundance, Amsterdam, Yamagata and Philadelphia and also was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

Last year, he released The Interrupters, a documentary about Chicago gangs.

Steve James uses his art, filmmaking, for positive change. Head Games is meant to make people think, change minds, and perhaps save lives. I can’t help but think about what James Madison might have said about Steve’s important work: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.” Steve James offers knowledge and understanding.

Perhaps wise decisions about brains and how we treat them will be the result.

You can listen to the full NPR interview with Steve James at NPR’s website: http://onlyagame.wbur.org/2012/09/22/head-games-documentary#disqus_thread
You can also learn much more about Head Games, including theatrical and non-theatrical releases for schools, clubs and healthcare providers, and see the trailer at the film’s website: http://www.headgamesthefilm.com/



If James Madison had never lived….

If James Madison had never lived or lived a life of less impact, there would be no James Madison University. And if there were no JMU, we would not be asking “Why Madison?” And if we were not asking “Why Madison?” I might not have a blog post for today.

But I do.

When I thought about today, Constitution Day, and I thought about James Madison, the father of the Constitution, I realized that President Madison’s legacy impacts every student who enrolls here. In a very real way, President James Madison and the Constitution are largely the reason why today JMU President Jon Alger is asking the question, “Why Madison?”

So on Constitution Day, I thought it was fitting to ask a student “Why Madison?” Be the Change intern Tyler McAvoy (’13) answers that question in today’s blog post, and proves that James Madison is still changing lives.

Why Madison?

by Tyler McAvoy (’13)

Back when I graduated from high school in 2008, I didn’t want to go to JMU. It was a fallback option, a secondary place that if I had to go to I would, but I really didn’t want to.  At the behest of my parents, I begrudgingly submitted an application on a whim, but consigned myself to the fact that even if I get in, no power on Earth could get me to enroll at JMU.

See, my mother is JMU alum. My grandmother took nursing classes on campus way back in the day. I’m what current JMU’ians call a “townie” and I really hated the idea of remaining one for a further four years of my educational experience. I felt that JMU was always looming over me like a shadow of stagnation: Not only did I see it as boring and exactly what my parents wanted me to do, I felt that enrolling here meant I was dooming myself to a “townie” existence for the rest of my life, living in The Friendly City and getting sucked in the “black hole” of Rockingham County.

I had to get out. So I did. But not far.

I ended up attending a Roanoke College in Salem, Va., for my freshman year, exactly a hundred miles south on I-81 from exit 240.  It lured me in with its beautiful campus, small classroom sizes, outdoor adventure opportunities and a vibrant, established history.  I was excited to go there. Very excited.

Then I started my freshman year. I hated it.

It wasn’t the school per se, I just didn’t feel a connection.  For some reason, it felt sterile to me, the people all looked the same, there never was anything to do, and pretty early on, I realized I had made a mistake.

Not knowing what to do, I transferred to JMU, head hung low and my tail between my legs. I moved back in with my parents, and realized that I had indeed become (GASP!)  a townie. I started my sophomore year half-heartedly, under the assumption that my life of adventure and excitement was over before it had even begun.  I had become my parents. I was convinced I would live here my whole life, looking at the same mountains and seeing the same fields everyday. I was exactly the person I had promised I would never be.

Yet, after a few weeks I realized something was different. I was beginning to connect with people. Professors seemed intrigued at my ideas, and people I met around campus seemed generally invested. That sterility of my old college seemed like a distant memory in the face of this overwhelming warmth. Vibrancy. Excitement. The campus buzzed all day long, and it was just fascinating for me to sit on a bench and just watch students go through their day. Smiles flashed. Laughter. Friendly waves to people all around.

It was different. It was friendly. The personal shame I felt for becoming a townie began to melt and I soon realized that JMU was where I needed to be all along.

See, I was so concerned that it wouldn’t offer adventure, that I didn’t see the reality of what JMU could offer.  Ask me about the time I went 170 miles per hour in a Corvette at Virginia International Raceway, or the time I went rock climbing to only learn that I was horribly afraid of heights. Ask me about getting published, or all of my hiking excursions, or zip lining, or roller derby or any number of a million things that I’ve done while I’ve been here.

It’s been a great adventure this past four years, and a completely surprising one, and what’s best: I know that my hometown can offer a lot more than I gave it credit for my entire adolescence.

I may not have chosen JMU at first, but I sure am glad that JMU chose me.

To learn more about President Alger’s 2012 Listening Tour visit http://www.jmu.edu/stories/president/2012/why-madison.shtml

Uncle Jemmy’s cradle of change

In Eastern Virginia, sitting majestically along the banks of the Rappahannock River, is a beautiful old home that will open later this year as a bed and breakfast — Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast. (pictured below)

When I stumbled across it recently, I was puzzled. I’ve visited Belle Grove — but this house was not the Belle Grove near Middletown, Va., in the Northern Shenandoah Valley that  is a national historic landmark, a destination for history lovers and the home of President James Madison’s sister, Nelly Conway Madison Hite.

So I dug a little deeper.

It turns out, Virginia has two Belle Groves, one in the east and one in the west, and both have ties to the fourth United States president.

The river-seated Belle Grove Plantation to the east is the place where James Madison was born. (The original house of his birth no longer stands.) The future president’s mother, Eleanor “Nelly” Conway Madison was living in Mount Pleasant, Va., with her husband of a year as the birth of their first child neared. Anticipating the event, Nelly traveled to her mother’s home, Belle Grove, in Port Conway. At midnight on March 16, 1751, James Madison Jr. was born.

The Shenandoah Valley’s Belle Grove

The owners of the eastern Belle Grove, an intrepid couple interested in preserving the beautiful old house and its history, have posted much about its heritage on their blog.

The Valley’s Belle Grove was built by Major Isaac Hite and his wife Nelly Madison Hite, the sister of President James Madison. According to one website, this valley plantation was named as a remembrance of the earlier, eastern plantation where Nelly and “Jemmy’s” mother grew up.

The aftermath of July Fourth is a good time to reflect on the impact of Mr. Madison and the legacy of the two Belle Groves, one that cradled a future president and another he likely visited.

Often overlooked and sometimes underestimated, James Madison lived “Be the Change.” His life defined what it means to be involved, to have feet on the ground, to be in the game, to make a difference — all those cliches we use to describe what it takes to create change. If there is a better exemplar for a university to follow, I’m not sure who it is. James Madison set a high standard for change.

And there’s one more historical twist that might will surprise you. It turns out that Michelle Hite (’88), the editor of JMU’s award-winning Madison magazine, is a descendant of the Hite family, the original builders of Shenandoah Valley’s Belle Grove Plantation. The Madisons married into her family, she’ll tell you with a laugh. I’ll leave it to the genealogists to figure out the exact connection, but somewhere up in Michelle’s family tree there’s an “Uncle Jemmy” every Duke can claim.

He’s our Uncle Jemmy.

To learn more about Virginia’s two Belle Groves, click the embedded links above.

And to read more about President James Madison, check out Liberty and Learning: The Essential James Madison by JMU alumnus and Be the Changer, Phil Bigler (’74, ’75M) and Annie Lorsbach (’08M).

Dukes making news

One Duke and one former Duke made national headlines this week.

Charles Haley ('87)

The National Footbal League announced that Charles Haley (’87) is a finalist for the NFL’s Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Haley — the only football player in NFL history to earn five Superbowl rings — was a fourth-round draft pick out of JMU in 1986. He went on to a successful career with the San Francisco 49s and the Dallas Cowboys. Read Charles’ Be the Change profile here: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/haley.shtml

This is the first year that fans can vote for their favorites. So if you’d like to vote for Charles, here’s the link: http://www.fanschoice.com/ The fans’ choice list will be announced on Feb. 6. so vote right away!

Dawn Evans ('11), spokesperson for NephCure

Another Duke in the news this week is current basketball standout Dawn Evans. She is making news not only as the top scorer in the nation but as a champion for many individuals suffering from serious kidney disease. Diagnosed last year with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, Dawn’s determination to succeed despite the obstacle is inspiring.  Yesterday’s USA Today featured Dawn and her story.  You’ll want to read it and see the video clip.  Here’s the link.


Both Dawn and Charles are testimony to JMU’s potent merger of excellent students, a challenging atmosphere and sincere support — a formula that cultivates success.  Every student has potential, and so many — like Dawn and Charles — achieve it.

Do you heart JMU?

Yesterday while I was pondering what to write for today’s blog, a JMU colleague Lisa Ha (’04, ’10M) sent me a blog posting written by Orlando Sentinel blogger and JMU Be the Changer Margot Knight (’74)What Margot has to say bears repeating  — and emulating. If there’s an overarching sentiment to this holiday season, it is a generosity of spirit, a kindness that transcends our ordinary, workaday worlds, and a belief that we can all be a little better, bigger and kinder to help change the world.

Read what Margot suggests to her own community and then consider: What do you heart?

Making a list and checking it twice

— posted by Margot Knight on December, 15 2010 12:36 AM

It’s that time of year. No, not buying gifts or decorating or singing carols but the time of year to make your charity list and check it twice. I am a passionate believer in tithing–the age-old tradition of giving 10% of what you have–whether it’s money or time to the charities or causes that you have a passion for.

So grab a Sharpie and draw a picture of your heart. Sit down with your family and do it together. Create a section for each aspect of the community you’d like to improve or fix or help. And then allocate some dollars or hours to them.

Before you write the check or pull out the credit card, go to Central Florida Community Foundation’s Knowledge Base (cfcflorida.org) and explore the organizations whose missions align with that of your heart’s. Or do a little something extra for your church, temple or mosque.

My drawing reveals several cultural organizations, Coalition for the Homeless, Second Harvest, The Sentinel Fund, and my alma mater, James Madison University, among others. I have a cousin I’ll help as she raises money for breast cancer; I’m a fan of Consumer Reports Foundation. Money already comes directly from my paycheck for United Way.

So forget the naughty. Spread a little joy to the world–you’ll be surprised how nice it feels.

Margot H. Knight

Margot is president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida, a non-profit devoted to quality experiences in culture for all tastes and pocketbooks. She has worked in public history and arts administration since 1977 when she recorded the tales of pioneer wheat farmers in eastern Washington state. She has been a singing waitress, stockbroker’s assistant, actor, playwright, go-go dancer and archivist. A proud Army brat, she believes in public service, being on time, candor, data, and the power of intention. She serves on the boards of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Private Sector Council of Americans for the Arts and the Alumni Board of James Madison University. (text from Orlando Sentinel website.)

If you want to read more of Margot’s blog posts, here’s the link: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/orlando_opinionators/category/margot-h-knight

And here’s the link to Margot’s Be the Change profile: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/knightMargot.shtml

If you’d like to include JMU in your heart, here’s one more link you’ll definitely want to check out: http://www.jmu.edu/give/

Thanks to JMU graphic designer Lynda Ramsey for the JMU heart!

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