University Business - October 2008 - (Page 53)

INDEPENDENT OUTLOOK Seeking a Drinking Age Debate Perspectives from an Amethyst Initiative signatory about moving the dialogue forward By Elisabeth Muhlenfeld A S AN ENTHUSIASTIC SIG natory to the Amethyst Initiative, a joint statement issued by college and university presidents and chancellors urging public debate on the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, I am pleased to say the discussion is certainly underway. Reaction to our call for a dispassionate exploration of the relationship between the legal drinking age and the problems associated with underage drinking has been swift, vehement, sometimes reasoned, often emotional, and occasionally misleading or false. When the Associated Press broke the story, voices pro and con erupted in news briefs and editorials, in the blogosphere, and on the airwaves. Despite the fact that our statement takes no position one way or the other on changing the current drinking age, most early reports asserted, “College presidents want to lower the drinking age to 18.” Some suggested that our motive was to get out of work: We just don’t want to go to the trouble of upholding the law; we’re trying to avoid the unpleasant task of policing frat parties. Mothers Against Drunk Driving—an organization that I have always admired and that has had a powerful and positive impact on our societal understanding of the evils of drunk driving—expressed outrage, even suggesting that parents should think twice before sending a child to a college whose president had signed the statement. It was hardly a reasoned response to our call for debate. TROUBLING NUMBERS So why did we choose this fight in the first place? College and university presidents are not given to diving into such Our teens have developed an increasingly dangerous culture of clandestine binge drinking. controversial waters. We know this issue is fraught with pain and frustration. But we also know that 21 simply isn’t working. We live in a society where underage drinking is pervasive (fully 72 percent of those aged 18 to 20 report using alcohol in the last year, according U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics). Worse, over the last three decades, our teens have developed an increasingly dangerous culture of clandestine binge drinking. Every day, we see the tragic costs of that culture. It is the lucky college president who has not had to telephone parents to report that their child has been the victim of date rape exacerbated by alcohol abuse, or killed in an automobile accident coming back from an alcohol-fueled all-night party. Binge drinking is drinking to get drunk. Defined by statisticians as consuming five or more drinks in a row (and by students as “getting completely wasted”), binge drinking within the last month is reported by 36 percent of our young adults between 18 and 20, according to government studies. e Harvard School of Public Health puts the number at nearly 50 percent. ose who engage in binge drinking are at risk for a sad litany of problems, the least of which is poor academic performance. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, underage drinking annually contributes to some 1,700 deaths, 599,000 injuries, and 97,000 cases of sexual assault. SAMHSA, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that nearly one in five teenagers (16 percent) “has experienced ‘black out’ spells where they could not remember what happened the previous evening.” is is not good clean fun. It is a national shame that demands our attention. Elisabeth Muhlenfeld has been president of Sweet Briar College (Va.) since 1996. Sweet Briar serves about 800 women and is a member of e Council of Independent Colleges. October 2008 | 53

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - October 2008

University Business - October 2008
Editor's Note
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Behind the News
Future Shock
On the Hill
The Changing Chaplaincy
Stop, Thief!
Chief Business Officers Speak Out
Independent Outlook
Internet Technology
What's New
End Note

University Business - October 2008