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Duke president supports lowering legal drinking age

Posted August 18, 2008
Updated August 20, 2008

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— Duke University President Richard Brodhead is among more than 100 college presidents calling on lawmakers to consider lowing the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

"We do not simply advocate lowering the drinking age as a solution to a very serious problem," Brodhead said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. Rather, we want to encourage an honest and constructive dialogue among educators, lawmakers, parents and students."

In a statement posted on the Web site of the Amethyst Initiative – the movement that began quietly recruiting college presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age – Brodhead says current law "pushes drinking into hiding, heightening its risks" and prevents school officials "from addressing drinking with students as an issue of responsible choice."

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont and the one who started Amethyst. "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.

"It should be obvious to anyone that the current system is broken and isn't doing what it should to protect the health, safety and well-being of our children," Brodhead said Tuesday. "And if what we are doing now doesn't work, then we have an obligation to ourselves, and to society, to explore what might."

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, however, says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes.

It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.

Craig Lloyd, executive director of MADD's North Carolina chapter, says data shows 25,000 lives have been saved since the drinking age was raised to 21.

Both sides agree alcohol abuse by college students is a huge problem.

Research has found more than 40 percent of college students reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependence.

One study has estimated more than 500,000 full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, and about 1,700 die in such accidents.

A recent Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005.

"We don't think just giving up and lowering the age is going to be the solution," Lloyd said.

Moana Jagasia, a Duke University sophomore from Singapore, where the drinking age is lower, said reducing the age in the U.S. could be helpful, however.

"There isn't that much difference in maturity between 21 and 18," she said. "If the age is younger, you're getting exposed to it at a younger age, and you don't freak out when you get to campus."

McCardell said college students will drink no matter what, but do so more dangerously when it's illegal.

The statement the presidents have signed avoids calling explicitly for a younger drinking age. Rather, it seeks "an informed and dispassionate debate" over the issue and the federal highway law that made 21 the de facto national drinking age by denying money to any state that bucks the trend.

But the statement makes clear the signers think the current law isn't working, citing a "culture of dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking," and noting that while adults under 21 can vote and enlist in the military, they "are told they are not mature enough to have a beer." Furthermore, "by choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law."

MADD CEO Chuck Hurley said, nearly all peer-reviewed studies looking at the change showed raising the drinking age reduced drunken-driving deaths. A survey of research from the U.S. and other countries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others reached the same conclusion.

Duke faced accusations of ignoring the heavy drinking that formed the backdrop of 2006 rape allegations against three lacrosse players. The rape allegations proved to be a hoax, but the alcohol-fueled party was never disputed.

Duke senior Wey Ruepten said university officials should accept the reality that students are going to drink and give them the responsibility that comes with alcohol.

"If you treat students like children, they're going to act like children," he said.

Hurley, of MADD, has a different take on the presidents.

"They're waving the white flag," he said.

226 Comments

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  • zanerx Aug 21, 2008

    Like millions of other Americans, I have drunk lightly to moderately for decades, and my life and health seem not to have been negatively affected. It appears that you are generally anti-drinking, which is fine, but I was trying to focus on the issue of drinking at 18 versus 21.

    It has been entertaining to debate with you, but now it's time to go and have a beer! Toodles!

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    College administrators should make it standard that there will be no drinking on campus. PERIOD. Drinking does nothing but ruin your health and lives. I don't care what some of you say, but it is true. I know under-age is going to obtain these things through family and friends whoever they can get to buy cigarettes and alcohol for them. Keep making excuses. Tomorrow a drunk driver will kill someone, a student will die from over-drinking. Body weight has a lot to do with drinking. But many young people simply don't care. Don't want to see any young person lose their health or life because of alcohol. Be smart - Don't drink. You will be glad you did. Oh, what is alcohol suppose to do for you. I will be interested in your answer. Not a drinker of alcohol.

  • shoyaryt Aug 21, 2008

    Lowering the drinking age is just going to increase the alcohol-related troubles we have now. These college presidents just want to remove the "legal" stigma from it... they're still going to have alcohol-related injuries and accidents; just not "underage" alcohol-related incidents. However, what you will then have is 16 year olds trying to purchase alcohol with fake IDs.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    There is no benefit to drinking alcohol. PERIOD!

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    Students attending college, universities or community college should be going to school to learn all they can to be outstanding adults. If they are going to indulge in alcoholic beverages and then one day become a teacher, nurse, doctor; etc., will you want that kind of college etc, life coming back to haunt you? Do you want a teacher, nurse, doctor; etc, to continue to drink while serving the public? Come on and be sensible. Stop drinking alcohol and you can be.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    If we follow your train of thought, we need to go ahead and ban cars,televisions, dancing, hamburgers, and crossing the street from our college campuses, too. Oh, and don't forget the crazy bicyclists.

    What a wonderful world we would have then. You start the trend and everyone else will follow. lol

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    Yes, most. You can't create a perfect society; college students (and others over 18) need to learn to live in an imperfect one, and control their own behavior. If we follow your train of thought, we need to go ahead and ban cars,televisions, dancing, hamburgers, and crossing the street from our college campuses, too. Oh, and don't forget the crazy bicyclists.

    Oh, and I love it when, a few posts after this, you quote your own prior post and then comment favorably on it. Are you in PR?
    zanerx

    When the next college student is found dead from drinking alcohol and you find out it is your sister, brother or cousin; etc. maybe then your tune will change. Am I in PR? Why do you need to know that? Too many young people, college kids too are ruining their life because of alcohol drinking. Then when the next day comes if they are living, they just wished they had never turned that bottle/can up. Oh, I am glad you like my comment. Thanks for supporting me. :)

  • zanerx Aug 21, 2008

    "When I was in college, the legal drinking age for beer and wine was 18, and most people did fine.

    Most! WOW! I have read where a young lady died from drinking at at a Colorago University ... While you are covering for these students; you are really harming them. Maybe the colleges, universities, and community colleges should banned all alcoholic beverages including beer on their campus or if the student is enrolled in that school regardless of living off campus. Dr. Dataclerk"

    Yes, most. You can't create a perfect society; college students (and others over 18) need to learn to live in an imperfect one, and control their own behavior. If we follow your train of thought, we need to go ahead and ban cars,televisions, dancing, hamburgers, and crossing the street from our college campuses, too. Oh, and don't forget the crazy bicyclists.

    Oh, and I love it when, a few posts after this, you quote your own prior post and then comment favorably on it. Are you in PR?

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    Lets don't forget not having any kind of illegal drug on these campuses, too.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Aug 21, 2008

    Maybe the colleges, universities, and community colleges should banned all alcoholic beverages including beer on their campus or if the student is enrolled in that school regardless of living off campus.
    Dr. Dataclerk

    This would be a great idea. In NC they have made all our school tobacco free. Just why don't these colleges, universities, and community college make their campus alcoholic beverage including beer and wine free. Even if living off campus but attend the college etc., at that particular campus they can be expelled if caught, drinking. Someone should look into this. Control your campuses regardless what some people might think. It is a known fact, students has lost their lives right on campus because of binge drinking alcoholic drinks.

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