Ronald E. Carrier

Dr. Ronald E. Carrier '55
1999 Distinguished Alumnus in Higher Education


At age 38, Dr. Ronald E. Carrier became the youngest college president in the state of Virginia. Twenty-seven years later, he ranks as one of the longest-serving college presidents in the nation, but he had originally turned down the job.

The Madison College Board of Visitors invited him for an interview on an outside recommendation. His youthful enthusiasm and sweeping vision combined with his academic experience and credentials impressed them. Carrier had received a bachelor's degree in economics from ETSU, master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois, and had held various academic positions at the University of Mississippi and Memphis State University. In spite of their obvious desire to hire him, they had to persuade Carrier to take a second look before he accepted the offer. In the end, Carrier agreed to take the position at James Madison College, not because of what he saw, but because of what he envisioned it could be.

Carrier's original vision translated into dynamic changes between 1971 and 1998. The small, female teachers college of 3,800 was nurtured into a regional university with over 14,000 students. Under an operating budget that greatly expanded by $190 million since 1971, Carrier's tenure added 40 new programs, established five new colleges and a graduate school, and developed an autonomous College of Science and Technology. The 472-acre campus boasts 90 buildings, of which 39 were constructed during his administration. U.S. News and World Report and Barron's Guide to College and Universities cite James Madison University as one of the best in the nation.

However, the facts and figures of the school do not personify Carrier. He embodied intelligence, vision, daring, drive, and courage, as well as the ability to integrate himself with governors, professors, and the staff. But for Carrier, the students always came first. Students have returned the recognition by affectionately dubbing Carrier "Uncle Ron."

Some of his many awards include three honorary doctorates, the 1991 Virginian of the Year, and the 1991 Martin Luther King Public Service Award. Carrier was further honored when he was tapped by a national survey as one of the 100 Most Effective College Presidents in the United States. He was also honored as ETSU's Outstanding Alumnus in 1976 and has served on countless boards and commissions which have benefited from his involvement.

Currently, Carrier continues his work as the first chancellor of James Madison University. He and his wife Edith, who were joint recipients of the 1955 Faculty Awards at ETSU, live in Bayse, Va. They have three children, Michael Lavon Carrier, Linda Carrier Frazee, and Jennie Carrier Thomas-Hughes. Six grandchildren complete the Carrier family.