If ever we needed proof that having an advanced degree doesn't correlate with common sense, we got it this week. A group of college presidents from some of the most prestigious schools in the nation have called on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age. They call their effort the Amethyst Initiative. Why Amethyst? On their website, the erudite group explains to those of us who aren't fluent in ancient Greek, the word is derived from the prefix "a" -- meaning not -- and "methustos," which means intoxicated.
"Twenty-one is not working," the group claims. "A culture of dangerous, clandestine "binge-drinking" -- often conducted off-campus -- has developed," they say, as if the law prohibiting underage drinking has created this culture. Apparently the group believes that if we'd simply lower the drinking age to 18, college students will magically stop binge drinking.
By that reasoning, why not lower the drinking age to 14? That way, we could wipe out binge drinking among high-school students as well. Heck, maybe we could cure alcoholism by eliminating age limits on drinking altogether. Start kids early and they'll learn to drink responsibly, right?
The facts suggest otherwise. According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Surgeon General, 45 percent of high-school students reported drinking alcohol within the previous month, and more than one in four said they were binge drinkers. In 2005, drinking led to 145,000 emergency room visits by kids 12 to 20 years old for injuries related to their drinking. Of the nearly 7,500 traffic deaths involving 15- to 20-year-olds in 2005, more than 2,000 had been drinking. And young people who start drinking before they turn 15 are five times more likely to become problem drinkers or alcoholics later on.
Lowering the drinking age to 18 won't solve these problems -- and would likely make them worse. So why do these college presidents want to open this Pandora's box? It's simple. They don't want to be responsible for enforcing the law on their campuses.
Back in the Dark Ages when I started college (1965), colleges assumed the role of in loco parentis, acting in the place of parents for students who were not yet adults. By 1970 when I graduated, most universities had dropped virtually all the old rules. Once forbidden to do so, students were allowed to entertain members of the opposite sex in their dorm rooms (and soon, those dorms would be co-ed). Curfews were gone. Indeed, the only behavioral rule colleges seemed willing to enforce after the tumultuous Sixties was the prohibition against drinking on campus. Now, more than 100 college presidents have asked to be alleviated of even this responsibility.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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