Academia

Donna Shalala's Wet Nightmare

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Researching tomorrow's column, I came across a MADD quote from former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, now president of the University of Miami, condemning the college presidents who want "an informed and dispassionate public debate" about the drinking age:

As a three-time university president, I can tell you that losing a student to an alcohol-related tragedy is one of the hardest and most heart-rending experiences imaginable. Signing this initiative does serious harm to the education and enforcement efforts on our campuses and ultimately endangers young lives even more. I ask every higher education leader who has signed to reconsider. I am old enough to remember life on our campuses before the 21 year drinking rule. It was horrible.

I'm also old enough to remember life on our campuses before the 21-year drinking rule, which did not apply to students at my college until halfway through my sophomore year. I don't recall it as horrible, or notably worse than it was after most students were officially forbidden to drink. To the contrary, the new restriction was a pain in the ass that made it harder to drink beer with friends at bars near the campus and encouraged us to drink liquor in private instead.

Of course, I am a generation younger than Shalala. Maybe her "horrible" experience occurred when she attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, in the early 1960s. It does not sound like a wild place, but who knows? Or maybe the alcohol-soaked hell was Hunter College, where Shalala was president from 1980 to 1987. Possibly she is overgeneralizing. Possibly I am. Does anyone else recall that life on campus was substantially more horrible when 18-to-20-year-olds drank legally than it was when they started drinking illegally?