Can 100 college presidents
be wrong? Well... yes and no.
College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.
I have mixed feelings about lowering the drinking age, but I cannot say that I disagree with the sentiment the prohibition mentality regarding booze creates it owns set of problems, specifically binge drinking.
When I was a resident assistant in the dorms at the Culinary Institute of America in the 1990s (free room!!) the biggest problems I had had were related to severe binge drinking episodes by students aged 18-20. The trips to the local emergency room for alcohol poisoning became so routine that campus security seemed to be on a first name basis with all the ER staff.
I actually caught some grief for the Dean of Students during alcohol awareness week when, instead of a display showcasing the horrors of booze on my floor's bulletin board, I posted a simple note reminding my residents that they were in the food and beverage industry and had best learn to deal with alcohol on a rational and personal level. (Oh, ... And I mentioned that the school's zero-tolerance policy wasn't working. That didn't win me any awards with the administration.)
A few years back Williamstown Medical Associates stopped providing 24 hour on-call care at Williams College's health services clinic. The reason publicly given was higher insurance rates. The scuttlebutt around town was that they were constantly and primarily dealing with toxically-drunk kids at 3 in the morning. Liability may have played a role, but I suspect that babysitting a 19 year old who is puking her guts out after downing a liter of vodka and orange juice might have entered a few of the doc's thoughts.
It is my firm belief that if a person's formative experiences with alcohol are clandestine and illegal, that person has a higher chance of doing something severely stupid or having much bigger problems with alcoholism later in life. I have no data. I doubt such surveys exist. I just know what I've seen.
Until a decade, or so, ago, Wisconsin had a law on it's books that allowed a child aged 16 or above to have beer/wine at a restaurant if the kid was with his/her parents. The discretion was left to the bartender. Unfortunately Congress threatened to withhold federal highway money if the state did not adapt the zero tolerance, 21 year old approach. The law was changed.
To me, the old Wisconsin law makes a helluva lot more sense than saying; "At midnight you turn 21 and will magically gain the wisdom to handle your booze." Life doesn't work that way.