The morning papers carried news today of an invitation to consider lowering the drinking age to 18 from presidents of the nation’s top colleges and universities:
College presidents from about 100 of the nation’s universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying that current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.
The movement, called the Amethyst Initiative, began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age.
“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, who started the organization. “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”
All Things Considered had an interview tonight with McCardell, who sounds like a smart and genuinely concerned person. You can see the Amethyst Inititive’s statement here–and I think it asks a great question: do age-21 laws serve us well? Although the quotation above frames this more as an equal rights issue, the real motivation for the Amethyst Initiative seems to be the epidemic of binge drinking. While I think the raising of the drinking age in the 1980s was part of the problem, lowering the drinking age again is only part of the solution. The Amethyst Initiative people are correct in noting that the binge drinking is happening off-campus, but the reason drinking moved off campus over the past twenty years also has to do with money–the money earned by unscrupulous realtors, and the money saved by financially strapped universities.
Drinking moved off campuses in the late 1980s because it was only legal for a minority of college students. Kids wanted to drink, local realtors were happy to rent to them or sell houses to their parents so that they could drink without a nosy RA busting up all the fun, and universities found that they could increase enrollment dramatically without going to the trouble of building new dorms to house thousands of new students. Everyone wins, right? Well, everyone except anyone who lives in college towns, where instead of mowing lawns and playing bridge, homeowners and adult renters spend their weekends on broken-bottle and barf patrol in their lawns and gardens. (Whoever wrote that book that recommended that parents defray the costs of their children’s college education by buying a house for the children to live in in college should be consigned to one of the lower rings of hell for all of the damage he did to neighborhoods surrounding universities.) Historiann spent four years in a quaint Ohio college town whose stock of historic domestic architecture was destroyed by a generation of party animals, which made the “historic mile square” of the town all but uninhabitable by anyone over the age of 23. Famille Historiann really liked that little town, but it made itself hard to love or raise a family near the town center because of the lack of law enforcement concerning the age-21 laws, public drunkenness, and the associated mess.
- Are colleges and universities prepared to offer housing to all of their undergraduate students?
- Are colleges and universities truly ready and willing to serve in loco parentis once again?
- Are local real estate interests prepared to give up the lucrative college student market?
- Will parents and communities discuss raising the driving age to 21?
- And, will monkeys fly out of my butt and mix me up a Pisco Sour?