As of Aug. 25, a group of more than 125 college presidents and chancellors have signed on to promote one of the dumbest ideas ever to emerge from an administrative office.
They want to combat binge drinking among college students by lowering the legal age for alcohol use from 21 to 18.
Most of the schools on the list are small colleges, including more than a few that were unknown to me. But, a sprinkling of more impressive institutions like Duke and Dartmouth, Ohio State and Syracuse has helped ramp up the publicity for the ill-conceived project. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any Baptist schools on the list.
Sponsors have dubbed their effort the “Amethyst Initiative” and set up a Web site to promote their plea for consideration of a lower drinking age.
The word “amethyst” is derived from a-methustos, a Greek compound word that could be translated as “not drunk.” Somehow, these highly educated administrators have convinced themselves that making alcohol more available to students will lead to less inebriation, reduced rowdy behavior and fewer students dying of alcohol intoxication.
The group’s primary argument seems to be that the irresistible appeal of drinking oneself into oblivion lies in the added rush of doing so illegally.
The college culture of binge drinking and moral laxity derives in large part from the obvious immaturity of many students, the failure of college administrators to expect better behavior, and the poor standard set for them by adults who also buy into the idea that alcohol can or should be an accepted social lubricant (see one college president’s incredibly sorry example here).
The real motive for the initiative, as Linda Chavez notes in an excellent editorial for the Boston Globe, could be that college leaders don’t want to be responsible for enforcing the law on their campuses. When young students bent on testing the waters of their new-found freedom engage in binge drinking, some of them will die. Many of them will become pregnant, or contribute to a pregnancy, and not even remember it the next day. Many students will contract sexually transmitted diseases. Others will get involved in fights or other loutish behavior. A few will be arrested.
And many–too many–will get behind the wheel of their cars, and go out and kill people–not because they have murderous intent, but because the availability of alcohol has enabled them to become very stupid while they are under its influence.
If such underage drinking and its gory consequences happen to take place on a college campus, that institution and its non-law-enforcing administrators could be held liable.
These things, I would think, should be painfully clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense. Yet, some of America’s smartest people want us to believe that the best way to rein in unbridled drinking is to make beer, wine and their strong-drink cousins more easily accessible to their students–a change that would move the legal drinking age into high school territory, where students are even more susceptible to alcohol’s mind-twisting appeal.
Promoters of the misnamed Amethyst Initiative may be flush with doctoral degrees, but on this project they deserve a big fat F.
Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today. This column appeared previously on his Baptists Today blog and is used here with permission.