College Dry

Drinking age debate


In August more than 100 university presidents and chancellors called for "an informed and dispassionate public debate" about lowering the drinking age. Under the banner of the Amethyst Initiative, named for the semiprecious stone said to ward off drunkenness, the administrators argued that the current minimum age of 21 undermines respect for the law, prevents faculty members from teaching and modeling responsible drinking, discourages students from seeking help when they get into alcohol-related trouble, and encourages consumption in private, unsupervised settings where excess is more likely. "How many times must we relearn the lessons of Prohibition?" they asked.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) replied by condemning the administrators for bringing up the subject. "Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies," declared MADD President Laura Dean-Mooney. The same press release quoted former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who said "signing this initiative…endangers young lives," and Mark Rosenker, acting director of the National Transportation Safety Board, who said it invited "a national tragedy" that would "jeopardize the lives of more teens."

Far from surrendering to alcohol abuse, the Amethyst Initiative's supporters complain that their efforts to prevent it are hamstrung by drinking laws that treat college students like children. They say a drinking age of 21 is unrealistic, since the vast majority of students drink anyway;unfair, because 18-to-20-year-olds are considered adults in virtually all other respects; and counterproductive, creating "a culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking."

After MADD blasted the initiative, which was organized by Middlebury College President Emeritus John McCardell, a few signatories withdrew their names. But several more signed up, and as of early October the total stood at 130.