College presidents, experts debate lower drinking age

Across the country, 129 university and college presidents gave their support to a petition hoping to spark debate and legislation on lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. University President Bob Bruininks is not one of them. The petition, called The Amethyst Initiative , was started in July by Middlebury College President John McCardell. According to a statement on the initiativeâÄôs website, binge drinking has become a major problem on and off college campuses, and traditional approaches to the problem have proven ineffective. Presidents who signed the initiative call upon elected officials to promote an informed public debate on the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age. Opponents of the initiative attest the facts are on their side. University Epidemiology Professor Traci Toomey stands in strong support of the current law. In a 2002 study of reports on the minimum legal drinking age, Toomey and others found that a higher legal age led to less consumption and fewer traffic accidents. âÄúI believe the drinking age is effective at age 21, but more things can be done across campuses and in communities,âÄù Toomey said. She said binge drinking rates are lower today than when the legal age was lower, in the early 1980s. Ed Ehlinger , director of Boynton Health Service , said a broader discussion of alcohol use among college students is needed, and the question of age may be the way to get there. He was wary, however, of the issue of legal age dominating the discussion and overshadowing bigger issues in society as a whole. Though the University has not taken a formal position on the Amethyst Initiative, itâÄôs definitely involved in the discussion. Jerry Rinehart, Vice Provost for Student Affairs, has been approached on behalf of the initiative, said President Bruininks While Bruininks chose not to sign at the time, Rinehart said the University is very open to and interested in the initiativeâÄôs message. âÄúWeâÄôre concerned with it being painted as only the push for an 18-year-old rule and not for reopening conversation,âÄù he said. Rinehart said itâÄôs important to get more people involved in the discussion, and people should look at more than just one statistic. The University wants to engage in conversation with state legislature, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and private schools on the issue of alcohol among students, Rinehart said. E. Gordon Gee , president of Ohio State University, is the only Big 10 president to sign the petition. In a phone message, Jim Lynch of OSU Media Relations said President Gee signed the petition to encourage discourse and debate. With regard to a change in the law to 18, Lynch said âÄúeverything should be on the table.âÄù Gustavus Adolphus College is the only Minnesota university to sign the petition. In 2007, Boynton Health Service reported that 41.6 percent of University students aged 18-24 took part in high-risk drinking, and that high-risk drinking peaked between the ages of 19 and 23.