Dickinson College's President Duren Calls for Discussion of Reducing Underage Alcohol Abuse

The Amethyst Initiative is a group of college and university presidents across the United States who believe that "the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses."

Amethyst Initiative presidents promote public discussion about the unintended consequences of current alcohol policies, including the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and invites new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use. For more information, visit Amethyst Initiative and Choose Responsibility

There are a number of possible policy changes that might be discussed. They include such things as possibly:

"Any claim that 'science' is unequivocally on the side of a specific drinking age... is patently false "

Dr. William G. Duren, President of Dickinson College

There is much resistance to even discussing possible options for a variety of reasons. Many organizations and professionals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Some don't believe any change is needed. Some believe the questionable theory that drinking in moderation harms developing brains, a notion disproven by the experience of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and others around the world. Some doubt the maturity of young adults. Some don't think we can improve what we're already doing. A surprisingly large number favor the de facto prohibition of alcohol as a way to prevent alcohol-related problems. And the list goes on.

Therefore, it's a brave person who publicly calls for discussions about how we might reduce alcohol abuse among young people. However, a large number of the presidents of some of our leading colleges and universities have courageously taken such a stand by signing the Amethyst Initiative to do exactly that.

President William G. Duren of Dickinson College is one of the many higher education leaders to join the Initiative. He explains that

I have watched with fascination and something akin to shock the reaction of some organizations to the Amethyst Initiative, an organization of more than 120 college presidents who support informed and unimpeded debate on the consequences of current alcohol laws and invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.

Our call is for a discussion about drinking. It is not, as some headlines have suggested, a call to reduce the legal drinking age to 18. As a co-author of the initiative's Presidential Statement, I knew that calling for a national discussion on the issue of binge and underage drinking would cause a stir. What I had not expected was the outrageous accusations, baseless predictions and fear-mongering responses by some to the mere suggestion of a national debate on the topic.

Dr. Duren emphasizes that "the current law is not working and the country needs to examine this carefully -- discuss and debate with all the facts, including the age limit, on the table -- before we reaffirm the 1984 legislation tying enforcement of the age limit to federal transportation funds."

He expresses concern over efforts to shut down discussion:

What I have witnessed in response to our call is a purposeful misreading of the Amethyst Initiative and our intentions.

Any claim that "science" is unequivocally on the side of a specific drinking age or that college presidents are "waving the white flag" and want the age lowered to lessen their liability is patently false, but it certainly is a popular attack that would be appealing to those who want to simplify the issue.

He believes that

a national discussion about current laws and what could be modified and/or enhanced to help all educators (and parents, for those young people not living at residential college campuses or attending college) teach responsible, reasonable drinking behaviors -- and the option of not drinking -- while curbing those that are dangerous is without question long overdue.

The apparent fear of debate about the drinking age is most troubling, as I believe the effort to suppress it also goes to the heart of repressing constructive dialogue in a democracy. The college president emphasizes that"what is at stake here is not just the issue of alcohol, but the continued assertion of colleges and universities to fulfill their democratic mission of forwarding rational conversation and opposing anything that shuts it down.

Dr. Duren says that

Slipping away is rational conversation in a democracy, and that is most troubling -- or should be for all citizens. To live in an age where the winning strategy is to shout down any rational difference of opinion, so that the loudest and most distorting voice wins, leaves us in a sad place as a country. We cannot permit this.

President Duren is a true leader.



  • William G. Duren. Shutting down debate won't solve binge issue, PatriotNews, August 24, 2008).

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