Presidents of Top U.S. Universities Call for a Lower Drinking Age

Big news on the college front.  The Amethyst Initiative, a group formed by presidents and other high-ranking officials from a number of prominent U.S. colleges and universities (including big names such as Duke, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Syracuse, et al.), has begun its call for a reevaluation of the 21 year old federal drinking age.  It appears they have noticed not only the injustice of such a law, but also the very real and dangerous culture of secrecy that the need for underage drinking breeds.  According to the Staten Island Advance article, :

[T]he statement makes clear the signers believe the current law isn’t working, citing a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking,” and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they “are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.” Furthermore, “by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”

Of course, even at the group’s earliest stages, there are dissenters.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving has already expressed concerns that a lower drinking age will lead to more drunk driving incidents.  I’m not sure of the exact statistics on this, but they claim in the Advance article that a number of peer-reviewed studies indicate that a higher drinking age is necessary to decrease drunk driving offenses.

Personally, I am inclined to go with a movement that addresses both issues.  My high school health teacher always said we should raise the driving age and lower the drinking age.  As a 15 year-old that seemed totally bizarre, but it doesn’t sound too crazy as a 22 year-old.  Teenagers cause the most accidents because they’re young and have the brain function that causes them to take too many risks anyway, not necessarily because they’re drinking.  Moreover, I think anyone can attest to the fact that many, many (if not most) people start drinking in their adolescence regardless of the 21 law.  And as many of us know, binge drinking on college campuses is indeed a huge problem.

I tend to think a lot of the drinking problems that young adults have, however, are in part caused by the secrecy and stigma that American culture attaches to drinking.  We live in a fear-based society, and are seemingly always taught that ALCOHOL IS BAD, when in reality, yeah a lot of the time it is bad, but also, having a glass of wine with dinner or a beer or two after work isn’t going to kill you.  The real problem is teaching kids to drink responsibly and with moderation.  And frankly, that isn’t something you can do if you are first saying they can’t drink AT ALL.  I think a lower drinking age would help adolescents learn to drink responsibly at a younger age, and hopefully ward off some of those I-just-left-home-and-want-to-go-crazy freshman year of college puking-on-the-bathroom-floor antics.

Any thoughts on this?  I know it’s a hot topic for people our age especially.  Let it loose, folks!


7 responses to “Presidents of Top U.S. Universities Call for a Lower Drinking Age

  1. polisciafterparty

    Also, I’d just like to add that University of Maryland President C.D. Mote, Jr. is among the officials signed onto this campaign. GO MARYLAND!


  2. polisciafterparty

    Kate Has No Pseudo Clever Name, I am glad that you brought this up. I was reading this in the Beltway’s own Express (Diet Washington Post) today. My old boss has her Masters in Alcohol Education and I will hopefully get a response from her on the topic soon. I feel that lowering the age is a great idea that should be coupled, as you mentioned with raising the driving age. Raising the driving age cuts down on emissions and lowers the amount of traffic on the road. Teenage driving is often needless and causes many late night accidents that can be avoided by having teens taking public transportation – perhaps instead of just senior citizens getting cheap fares – those who also do not have a driver’s license? Just an idea. Al Gore would be proud.

    I do not think that American’s really have a “alcohol is bad” impresssion, I think as many people outside of the US do as those inside, regardless of drinking age. I agree, Kate HNPCN that people will drink at the same age regardless of drinking age law. There are many issues to think of when moving these things around however, and it is not as easy as switching the Mark to the Euro – there will be many court cases that would need to be overturned, most likely including prison sentences. States like New York that auction DWI impounded cars off would have to work out a recall system. The Federal DOT would have to figure out a fair system to replace the current – no federal highway funding for your state unless your drinking age is 21. I have more to say. I think I may come back after a while.
    -Beltway Bob

  3. polisciafterparty

    Oh But Kate, did you also see, sadly, dumb whiny interest groups that ruin America because they have nothing better to do with thier time, such as MADD have started to warn parents about sending thier children to these 100 schools because of the flawed logic that – if the president of the school signs this then he must be operating an unsafe campus and so then it is unsafe for your children and so you should not sent them there – even though these schools are some of the best in the world.

    The thought back at my conservative Catholic University was that the 18 drinking age is an extremely safe thing for campuses, especially in big urban settings – 1 you don’t have students aged 16-20 going out in the questionable parts of town just so that they can buy alcohol; 2 – you don’t have students running around with id’s risking the chance of getting arrested at all hours of the day; 3- you can keep the students at on campus events, sponsored by the univeristy, that are monitored – you can’t monitor a frat party that is giving away alcohol illegally.

    An additional, but mostly cynical view from me is that it is good for revenue from the school. My same school I mentioned had an on campus bar that had to close in 2003 not because of a strict administration, but because of lack of revenue. The campus was operating the bar at a loss since the law changed to 21. The spot used to be as popular as the computer lab or the library and a much safer alternative to going into downtown urban city USA to a 3rd rate dive bar.
    -Beltway Bob

  4. polisciafterparty

    Taking a different perspective on the law, I believe that the Federal law governing the drinking age isn’t merely bad policy, it is an unconstitutional extension of the federal government’s power. As many of you know, the reason why the drinking age is 21 is that Federal highway funding is contingent upon the state’s enacting laws making the drinking age 21. The federal government couldn’t do this itself because it lacks the constitutional authority to do so. However, it circumvented this absence of power by making the somewhat dubious argument that the drinking age is reasonably related to the condition of the highways. The Supremes thought it was reasonably related. I disagree.

    Both as a matter of policy and as a matter of equal rights (for 18 year olds), there is a right answer on the issue of the drinking age.

    – Legal Eagle

  5. polisciafterparty

    Although I already mentioned the 21 Fed DOT funding ruling, I agree that it is a non sequitur that underage drinking is related to highway conditions.

    However, I do not think it is a right issue when it involves the consumption of a state altering product. The problem with calling this a rights issue is that allowing anyone the ability to consume alcohol freely is taking away much more of my rights as a citizen – being able to walk outdoors without being accosted by uncontrollable drunks, being able to drive without the constant fear of an alcoholic flying his car into me. I am all for less government, but there is also a point where you have the right to feel safe walking outside of my house.

    An anecdote:

    The other day, I was on a free trolley that is provided by an unnamed city in Virginia to promote tourism. As I was sitting on the trolley, a man who had a messenger bag full of Guinness bottles was cursing at the bus driver, cursing at the ladies on the bus, etc. This is called public drunkenness and it is a crime. Disturbing the peace and since the bus driver is an official of the city, I am sure that is a crime as well. I wanted to call the police, but quickly in my head I calculated that if I wanted to ride the bus again and this man was on it, my life would be hell. So instead, my right to feel safe in my environment was infringed upon by someone who felt that they were exercising their right to be publicly drunk.

    Now I am not using this example to take down public drunkenness, it could have been something else such as vandalism. But my point is that the right to freely consume a mind altering product that can injure other people is not at right at all. The same man could have easily lunged at the bus driver and killed all of us.

    I do not disagree that the 21 age rule is poorly thought out, I am just saying that this argument of a right to imbibe inherent as a citizen is dangerous if it starts other people saying that prescription drugs should be deregulated (and so if Ron Paul had his way) – and then having them get behind the wheel.

    Well perhaps I got a little off topic. But the issue of lowering the drinking age to 18 or 16 can be reached through science, psychology, and research and not through telling people they have the right as a citizen to get mentally altered and roam about society. And I know, that’s not exactly what you meant, but all same.

    Beltway Boob

  6. polisciafterparty

    You misconstrued the right. The right to drink alcohol is NOT the same thing as the right to drink alcohol and “roam about society.” It is a rights issue insofar as we consider 18 year old’s to be full citizens. Just as 21 year old’s are subject to laws that regulate public drunkenness, driving under the influence, and operating machinery drunk, so too would 18 year old’s.

    The point is that IF we believe in equal rights (though the age issue is an interesting one in the area of 14th amendment protection) AND we consider 18 year old’s to be adults AND 21 year old’s can drink (subject to regulations against situations where it can negatively effect others), THEN we are compelled to grant that right to 18 years old’s. Plain and simple.

    Just because framing it as a right’s issue may bring about other, thornier issues, doesn’t mean the rights issue isn’t valid. However, I don’t think that granting 18 year old’s the right to drink (a 14th amendment issue) somehow leads into a discussion about whether people can use illicit drugs (a law that applies to everyone and is therefore not an equal rights issue).

    -Legal Eagle

  7. polisciafterparty

    i personally find the Federal highway funding scam to be complete bullshit. The gov’t deliberately circumvents the legal process by threatening to stop highway funding to any state with a sub 21 drinking age. this is a mond-numbing abuse of power, forcing through somehting that would be declared unconstitutional.

    I also find it asinine that at 18, we could have been drafted into military service, been sent overseas, watch friends die, killed enemy combatants, survived a short tour, been sent home before we were 21, and not have been able to go out with our company for a good bye beer or whatever…

    I applaud those college presidents who signed this petition, knowing full well that there would be a response like that from MADD. i plan on finding the full list and making sure that my children, when the time is right, apply to these schools just to spite the MADD people.

    Christ, after all this, I’m happy I’m 22, bc i need a drink…


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