August 19th, 2008
10:20 AM ET

College chiefs urge new debate on drinking age

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/19/art.drinking.jpg]
College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying 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."

Other prominent schools in the group include Syracuse, Tufts, Colgate, Kenyon and Morehouse.
But even before the presidents begin the public phase of their efforts, which may include publishing newspaper ads in the coming weeks, they are already facing sharp criticism.


Filed under: 360° Radar
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. sharon

    I think instead of lowering the drinking age; that, Alcohol should be outlawed completely. The congress, Goverment and all high power law makers are putting this world in the last days. Lowering the age to 18 is asking for trouble!!!!!

    August 20, 2008 at 8:15 am |
  2. ellendar

    i was nineteen the first time I voted, I thought it was terrific that they lowered the voting age after they had drafted all those eighteen year old guys and they faced death in VietNam , sure eighteen should be the drinking age but then maybe the insurance rates for 18 year old drivers will go yup to match it.

    August 20, 2008 at 12:05 am |
  3. ellendar

    i do think if they are old enough to marry or live independently it is their business if they drink or not but they don't have to drink

    August 20, 2008 at 12:02 am |
  4. Michael . Earth

    I waited until 21 to drink – gamble for awhile it was interesting and fun. However I lost my taste for both and resumed my normal life.

    The mind is a terrible thing to waste while getting wasted because the mind is the one human organism that must be maintained for a prosperous long life. What needs to hit home in the United States is the fact that for many and at many ages the alcohol no longer is ' just a drink ' it becomes a drug addiction – destructively used like any addictive drug.

    There is a saying regarding alcoholism. The drinker takes a drink, then, the drink takes a drink, and then, the drink takes the drinker... The issue at any age is alcoholism leading to irresponsible actions from some individuals to the point of driving drunk, risky sexual behavior leading to unwanted children ( not to mention the onset of alcohol syndrome that effects unborn children ), Deceases curable and incurable . The point is, if someone is going to drink they are going to drink legal or not, right or wrong . Addiction on the other hand is a major issue from coast to coast .

    August 19, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  5. Shelley


    August 19, 2008 at 9:59 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    The college administrations pushing this just want to move the liability away from themselves and onto someone else to worry about especially since the last few years have publicized more of the drinking binges that occur on campus and have resulted in deaths from alcohol poisoning as well as driving drunk.

    I don't see that the rationale for lowering the age to legally drink is that persuasive. Yes, underage kids will continue to be able to find someone to get their drinks from but the same can be said for illegal drugs – cocaine, heroin, etc. Are we going to make those legal also so the people who want them can take them in a "safe environment". I would hardly think so. We have enough drunks now – lets not add to it.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 19, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  7. Gina - Missouri

    I see no problem lowering the age to 18. As many have said, you can vote and serve in the military you are old enough to drink. Toughen the drunk driving penalties for all ages.

    August 19, 2008 at 9:28 pm |
  8. Mary

    Wow, what a timely subject. I just dropped my daughter off at Purdue. As a mom I would prefer if she did nothing but go to class and study, but that is pretty unrealistic. We met an exchange student from Germany, there the drinking age is 16 but you can't drive until you are 18. The drinking age was 18 in Michigan and it seemed that those who were responsible acted responsibly. At 18 you are considered an adult. The drinking age is 21, but there are 12 year olds drinking.

    August 19, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  9. Kristin

    Why do so many believe age has any correlation with the ability to drink responsibly? The limit could never be high enough, and it could never be low enough. I have known 16 year olds who could drink responsibly, and 50 year olds who couldn't. Age does not magically transfer this wisdom to people.

    Instead of worrying about an arbitrary age limit, why don't we focus on the real problem of teaching our children to drink responsibly? Why not ease teens into this responsibility the same way we ease them into the responsibility of driving? When a teen is ready to drive, they start with a learner's permit that allows driving under restricted conditions, like no driving at night. Why not do the same thing with teenage drinkers? Permit teens to drink a little under appropriate supervision. Let teens go to bars and have one drink with a responsible (sober) adult present. Show them, by example, how to designate a driver, how to drink responsibly, and what can happen if they don't. That is likely to make a lot more difference in a teen's life than any poorly-enforced age restriction.

    August 19, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  10. Larry

    If voting a guy into the office of POTUS can be decided by 18 year old voters then that POTUS should be held responsible to the what the 18 year old voter wants, whether its drinking, gay marriage, holding a senate seat or even POTUS.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  11. matt

    The only argument that I have heard to have the legal drinking age be 21 is because of lack of maturity and that it reduces drunk driving. Maturity is a debatable one, I know 14 year old kids who are more mature than someone in their thirties. And the reason you have less drunk driving is that you have less people on the roads. But drunk driving is illegal no matter what your age. Also, I know a great way to limit the number of drunk drivers even further, make the drinking age 25. If the goal is to stop, or at least limit, drunk driving then ban alcohol all together. Yet, probation is an excellent example of why banning something to solve a problem just does not work. So there are no clear reasons to limit the drinking age, beyond the hop of reducing people on the roads.

    As for this idea that colleges are waving a white flag, it is more of a financial and social issue than anything else. What is the cost of mentoring and stopping underage drinking, and why is it the colleges responsibility to keep track of people who are suppose to be adults? In the end it should be going into educating the students, not protection themselves from themselves, and if as a parent you are against drinking then talk to your kids and teach them why, don’t blame the college for not teaching your beliefs.

    I am not a fan of drinking and don’t much care for it. My state of Ohio voted numerous times against raising the drinking age, until the federal government stepped in. But, reason behind MADD( Mothers Against DRUNK DRIVING) and their supports for putting this law into play is not sufficient enough in my book.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
  12. Caren in Los Angeles/soon-to-be-Boston

    Well, that picture certainly doesn't do much for the case! I started drinking when I was 15 years old. In Atlanta, there are too many options, especially if everyone you know has older siblings. I don't think lowering the legal drinking age will help with alcohol abuse much, if at all. I went to UGA and honestly, there isn't anything at all that will stop you from drinking a whole lot- it's just the atmosphere you choose to surround yourself in and the people you hang out with. If your friends drink, you do too. And hello, tailgating????? That's half of going to an SEC school. I don't think it's just that way in the south, but I certainly know that it's almost impossible to avoid it.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:06 pm |
  13. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    By lowering the drinking age to 18 will include many high school seniors as well. By lowering the drinking age, will not only add to more DUI's but also to the increasing number of date rapes.

    I would hope we could help as many kids become responsible young adults, rather than give them more opportunities to not only hurt themselves, but others as well.

    August 19, 2008 at 6:44 pm |
  14. Alyssa

    As a college student, I agree that the drinking age should be lowered. Binge drinking IS a result of alcohol not being legally available. When young adults do get their hands on it, they take advantage of it and end up over drinking.

    We can vote, we can go to war, we can get married. We should be able to drink as well.

    August 19, 2008 at 5:35 pm |
  15. Tammy, LA

    Lowering the legal drinking age on college campuses sounds like a nice way to lower liability costs and keep risk management happy. The downside is it won't work to lower drinking rates. People drink alcohol for many reasons, people binge for many reasons, and chronological age has very little to do with the decision-making process. Peer pressure, self-worth, physiological and psychological factors, genetics, family dynamics, and environmental factors all play a part in the choice to drink and get drunk. I've heard the arguments that 18-20 year olds are less mature. In my experience, age has nothing to do with it. I was drinking with friends in high school (try my freshmen year). I was a weekend drinker. By the time I got to college as an 18-year old, I was drinking only if I could get drunk on those weekends and weeknights we went out. Finally, I stopped in my mid- twenties when the blackouts scared me, my friends and family intervened over a year-long period, I became tired of fighting and living the insanity, and I realized I would die if I didn't quit. Thank God for amazing counselors, AA, and Al-Anon, especially in those first years. I get that most kids don't get to that point. Some sadly do. And regardless of addiction or not, many do drink for some of the same reasons I did (to fit in, to forget, to be "cool", to feel better, to feel period). Age isn't a part of that equation. These college presidents and MADD need to realize that to stop binge drinking, you've got to figure out why kids are doing it, and then work to prevent it. Giving an 18-year old who's been boozing it up since high school carte blanche legally just takes away a barrier and makes getting drunk that much easier. I know. I was legal at 18. And being legal didn't stop a thing.

    August 19, 2008 at 5:14 pm |
  16. Larry

    Well, if we can do all of the above at 18 then why not lower the age for political office?

    August 19, 2008 at 5:03 pm |
  17. Jolene

    I think students are going to drink in college regardless of age restrictions so I say go for it. If we really want to stop "binge" drinking, then we should consider stopping Spring Break activities. Afterall, they are just one big Drunk Fest! Not to mention a big money maker for those areas who host them.

    Although I never had the experience like the dude laying in the sand in the pic, I had my share of fun and learned my drinking limits in college and during Spring Breaks. I agree with the President of Duke, don't treat them like children. They are adults and can act responsible if they so choose.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 19, 2008 at 4:27 pm |
  18. Kerri

    I agree MIchael and Cindy about the drinking age and military service and etc... If 18 year olds are old enough to be carrying guns for the military, and vote, and be tried as an adult, and consent to sex, then they should be allowed to have a beer. If people think that 18 year olds are not mature enough to drink, then the same applies to all those other things they can do legally! I don't understand , why people are more worried about an 18 year old driving drunk, than say a 27 year old or 40 year old. They are ALL breaking the law. Other countries allow drinking before 18, and have strict drunk driving laws and seem to be doing fine or better with this issue. Maybe what people need to do is teach moderation, instead of encouraging excess in our society?

    August 19, 2008 at 4:13 pm |
  19. Laurie, TX

    I'm 18 and live in the states, but went to Canada this summer with a friend, where we are considered legal drinkers. We drank brightly colored alcoholic beverages for the first time. It was nothing special.
    It's strange in Canada, though- we couldn't find a single place that SOLD alcohol. It was only served in restaurants. Whereas here, it's lining shelves at WallMart, and in small towns like the one I live in, so long as you know the cashier from your 5th period English Lit. class, you can easily purchase a case.
    I think we need to get our priorities in order. Lower the age, whatever- but have stiffer penalties for those who choose to drive drunk.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Larry

    Can an 18 year old be sentenced to death?

    August 19, 2008 at 3:45 pm |
  21. John

    You see the problem is the culture around drinking in America. While firstly I don't think the minimum age of drinking has anything to do with Binge Drinking...kids will do that no matter what. The problem with America following the same rules as many other foreign nations which either have 18 or no age limit is that it is obvious to see that Americans far more than other nations drink for the simple reason to get drunk. You will not find the phenomenon of sitting around drinking just to get wasted in any other part of the world....even "drinking nations" like ireland have more purpose to their drinking than we do.
    The sad truth is kids are brought up thinking that the best way to have fun is to go black out drinking...until that mind set changes you have to try and limit it somehow.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  22. Nicole

    I don't have a problem with this. You are allowed to get married, have kids, join the military, vote, buy a house or car, get credit cards etc but can't drink.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:38 pm |
  23. Melissa, Los Angeles

    I wonder how Bush feels about this considering his daughter Jenna was busted with underage drinking and then later with having a fake ID in an attempt to buy alcohol.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  24. Leo

    Lowering the age to 18 should of happen a long time ago. This is what is wrong with having old, life long politicians in office; it takes a life time to make a simple decision.
    If people of this country can not see that this should be done, then something is very wrong.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  25. Lesli

    I think this is an insane idea.

    These university presidents would rather just change the law tso they don't have to deal with the problem.

    Also, this moves the problem down into the highschools, where it has to be dealt with.

    Drinking is a privledge, not a right.

    I did some really stupid things when I was in college and under the influence. My life could have been changed dramatically if I had not been in the hands of some very good friends. By the way, I have only had about five drinks since I was 21. I decided it wasn't worth risking my life on anymore.

    Parents need to modulate good habits to their children. I have a 21 year old son and it really is hard for me to handle watching the way his friends throw money and time away on binge drinking. Luckily my son shows better restraint than some of them. We have never had a drink in front of our children and we do not keep alcohol in our home.
    Our son is allowed to keep his own stash, and drink with his friends in our hom as long as they are respectful and responsible when doing it.

    The issue isn't whether these young people should be allowed to have A beer. The issue is they don't seem to stop at one.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm |
  26. Sandra, Wadley Ga

    There are many mature and immature young adults, whether they attend a university or not. By lowering the drinking age, binge drinking may indeed decrease on campus. However, what of the young adult not on campus, without direction in life, and with easier accessibility to alcohol; will he become more responsible when imbibing in strong drink. Whatever the outcome, I truly hope these people who drink, young and old, will stay out from under the wheel of an automobile. My sister and her husband were innocent victims of a young drunk driver and my heart still aches after 28 years.

    August 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm |
  27. Michael . Earth

    I agree with Cindy. If our youth are old enough to take out student loans, vote, take out a line of credit , have sexual relationships, pay taxes then why not? Either way collage students and or 18 year olds are going to drink . Maybe concerned parties should focus more on addiction the cause- effects – the cures and less on prejudging 18 year olds using theories of ' what if's ' should of- would of's -could of's.

    August 19, 2008 at 1:33 pm |
  28. Larry

    What can they do about it in fraternities, spring break, schools near the border with canada ( where the age is 18).

    August 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm |
  29. Jen Central FL

    I agree that changing the age will not stop binge drinking however part of the "fun" of drinking when you are younger is b/c your aren't "allowed". I agree with Renee. You can decide who is going to run our country, die for your country, but you can't have a beer?! If age limits and restrictions are being examined I think we need to take a closer look at what age teenagers can get their drivers licenses. They kill more than alcohol.

    August 19, 2008 at 1:22 pm |
  30. Neil

    These university presidents couldn't care less if binge drinking was reduced or student lives were saved. They simply want to eliminate their own liability. If they cared about students, maybe they would reduce tuition. This is all about the bottom line. Would this debate have as much credibility if it was brewery presidents making the same argument.?

    August 19, 2008 at 1:20 pm |
  31. SARA.ro

    Maybe the alcohol should be percepted as a weakness.There are nations on the planet who are raising ,actually training them kids against drinking.In a new world we should pick up what is the best ,worldwide speaking ,to raise the generations able to make the diference between pleasure,weakness,duty.If not, a law regarding drinking age should come with details about how much you should drink at 30,40,50...and with who:)

    August 19, 2008 at 12:28 pm |
  32. Becky, PA

    The reason why they drinking age is 21 is because you really aren't able to make good decisions until your brain is mature. And actually the brain doesn't completely mature until the mid to late twenties.

    August 19, 2008 at 12:17 pm |
  33. Chris, Ohio

    I find it interesting that a previous writer stated that today's 18 year olds are more "worldly". They may be more "worldly" as she states, but are they mature enough to handle alcohol? I think not. Also, she is encouraging her daughter to break the law on a regular basis because she thinks she is "mature" enough to handle it. Wrong! Even if the daughter and boyfriend are mature enough, they are NOT old enough! Until they are 21, it is ILLEGAL for them to drink anywhere, even in the privacy of their own home or room. Where are they getting the alcohol? Buying it illegally?

    I believe the college presidents in favor of lowering the drinking age are in effect refusing to deal with the problem on their campuses. They believe it's easier to go along with the problem then develop stringent guidelines and disciplinary actions for violating the rules. Unfortunately, the end result will be more drinking, more violence (including violence towards women), more alcoholism and more problems for the college. As a parent, I will definitely NOT be sending my children to any college or university whose presidents believe the way to solve a problem is to pretend it does not exist. I am NOT sending my children to college to have a "good time", rather to continue their education and prepare them for adult life. If my children choose to drink underage, they need to understand there are penalities for unacceptable choices, not that it is OK to disregard laws you don't agree with.

    August 19, 2008 at 12:05 pm |
  34. GF, Los Angeles

    If a person can be sent to war at the age of 18 then they should be able to drink at 18 as well. It's a double standard to say 18 is not old enough to drink but old enough to shoot a gun and kill or be killed.

    College is where a lot of people are away from home for the first time and that is when poor choices are made. Hopefully the parents taught their kids enough to be responsible and after that it's up to them to make the choice.

    August 19, 2008 at 12:01 pm |
  35. Matt Northfield, MN

    One tequila
    Two tequila
    Three tequila...floor

    August 19, 2008 at 11:49 am |
  36. Arachnae

    back when the drinking age was dropped to eighteen, it was touted as a rights issue. Eighteen was old enough to sign contracts, live alone, hold a job and be drafted, but not old enough to have a beer? The end of the draft perhaps made it easier to 're-juvenile-ize' eighteen-year-olds.

    But why stop at drinking? if eighteen is too young to drink, it's surely too young to make an irrevocable decision regarding a three-year commitment to a job that could get you killed. But where would the military be without eighteen-year-olds with poor impulse control?

    If society wants to make drinking a special case, and say you're an adult at eighteen, oh, except for the drinking thing, why stop at 21? Why not make the drinking age 23, or better, 25?

    August 19, 2008 at 11:44 am |
  37. Susan Costlow

    I think that this is a good idea. The problem of binge drinking on college campuses is not a recent one. I was one of those binge drinkers when I went to Penn State in the 70's. Back then I probably would have been on the other side of the fence however, because I feel that we did not have the maturity to handle such a responsibility.
    Today's 18 year olds are much more worldly and have a better handle on things.
    I am the mother of a 20 year old college junior. She is a bio-premed major; her boyfriend is a pre law major...they both drink on occasion. The only problem I have and the only problem his parents have is that we don't want them to get caught and face the disciplinary procedures at their university. They are both responsible drinkers-they don't drink and drive and they drink in moderation. We have discussed this with them numerous times and they feel they should be allowed to have pizza and beer or a nice glass of wine at dinner-we agree.
    I don't think that the college presidents are trying to take the easy way out in solving this problem. I believe if the option is legally available then the "need" to drink 'til you drop won't be there and in time, the frequency of binge drinking episodes will fal to the level that they now occur in the over 21 population...and let's be honest, binge drinking doesn't magically stop at 21!

    August 19, 2008 at 11:14 am |
  38. Renee

    Eighteen seems fine with me. You can vote, join the military, serve on a jury, sign legal documents and make your own decisions concerning life support.

    As far as the penalities we have tons of drunk drivers in Florida and many are retirees mixing alcohol with prescription medicines so I can't blame it all on the young folks.

    The penalties need to be more harsh both financially, educationally and through community service and/or prison. A few nights in jail may scare a few repeat drunk drinkers for life.

    What do those CNN commercials say about AC 360, something like, you have to see it, feel it, touch it? Maybe a MADD trip to the morgue would add in some education.

    August 19, 2008 at 11:03 am |
  39. Cindy

    This is the most stupidest thing that I have ever heard of. Do they really think that college students binge drink because the age limit for drinking is too high? Give me a break!! They drink because they want to! And if the age limit is lowered they will be drinking even more!

    Lowering the drinking age won't make them stop drinking at all. The only thing that it will do is give them easier access to alcohol so that they can drink even more. If they think it is a problem now just wait and see what happens if it ever did get lowered.


    August 19, 2008 at 10:43 am |