National Debate on Alcohol Prohibition

The college presidents said they wanted a national debate on the 21-year-old drinking age. They got it.

For years, former Middlebury College President John McCardell has been criticizing the law, saying it only encourages binge drinking and pushes alcohol into the shadows.

But then McCardell quietly enlisted about 100 college presidents in a campaign calling for the drinking age to be reconsidered. After The Associated Press reported on the effort this week, the issue erupted into the biggest discussion on the subject in years — in blogs, over e-mail, in newspaper editorials and around office water coolers.

College presidents usually avoid contentious topics because alienating alumni and politicians poses big risks and offers few rewards. So it was big news when so many leaders of the nation’s best-known institutions signed on to McCardell’s “Amethyst Initiative,” named for the Greek gemstone said to ward off intoxication.

Supporters included presidents of private universities such as Duke, Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins, and public schools including Ohio State and the University of Maryland.

“No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s impossible to look at what has happened over the last three or four days and say this is a settled question,” McCardell said Friday in one of nearly a dozen scheduled media interviews.

“It’s also impossible to say the public isn’t ready to participate in the debate the presidents are calling for.”

Critics led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving got their view across, too, accusing the presidents of seeking to avoid the unpleasant work of cracking down on campus lawbreakers.

MADD marshaled critics, including the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who called changing the law “a terrible idea” that would “jeopardize the lives of more teens.”

Amid the backlash, two presidents — Robert Franklin of Morehouse College and Kendall Blanchard of Georgia Southwestern State — withdrew their support.

“We welcome an honest discussion and that begins with a clear discussion of the science,” MADD CEO Chuck Hurley said. “We are hopeful that that will be the focus going forward.”

More presidents join group
But at least 20 presidents have added their names this week, including the presidents of Montclair State in New Jersey and the University of Massachusetts system, bringing the total to at least 123.

“We’re not burying our head and trying to hide behind laws,” said Father Paul Locatelli, president of Santa Clara University in California, who meets personally with every student written up for alcohol infractions. “We’re trying to say, ‘What is the best way to approach this issue?'”



2 responses to “National Debate on Alcohol Prohibition

  1. Sheila Joyce Gibbs

    Ya know, it really doesn’t seem to matter, WHAT the drinking age is, NOW A DAYS! I’ve been working for 6-7 mos now, trying to spread the word, of ALCOHOL caused health afflictions, after the sudden loss of my beloved husband from just that. And it appears from information I’ve received, read & News information on the TV, there are MANY homes where parents allow their children to drink. Feeling that they are teaching them the PROPER way & amount to drink! So, I have absolutely no idea, what is wrong with our society! At 52 yrs of age now, I can tell you this, that when I was a kid, if I had dared to touch anything like that, my Mom would have given me such a good swift clip unside the head, uuummmm, oh ya, I wouldn’t have EVER done that again!!! But, now it seems even that’s not right!

  2. Although this is prob spam in my comments I’ll reply for the sake of it: Unless you’re prepared to establish an universal prohibition on alcohol (which proved a failed project in the nineteen-twenties) it is irresponsible to farm out the accountability for policing [young] adults in and associated with American universities in terms of the consumption of said substance. Universities’ jobs are to educate the youth, not to socialize them. Moreover, it is a rather hypocritical position to suggest that an individual who can: 1. decide the fate of [an]other individual[s] or entity(ies) on a jury panel 2. vote in an election 3. fight in battle 4. get married et cetera cannot consume a substance that is legally consumable by other adults. There is no precedent for the age of 21 in regards to any other adult activity. Finally, the prohibition on alcohol for individuals aged less than 21 years is a shift of the burden of responsibility off parents and onto public (as well as private) institutions for, essentially, socializing proper behavior in regards to the consumption of said substance.

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