College presidents sign petition to lower drinking age

Students wait in line to enter FuBar, a Champaign bar on Green St., on Aug. 31. Many national university presidents are suggesti

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Students wait in line to enter FuBar, a Champaign bar on Green St., on Aug. 31. Many national university presidents are suggesti

By Melissa Silverberg

More than 100 presidents of colleges and universities across the nation have signed a public statement supporting a new debate in favor of lowering the legal drinking age of 21. However, University President B. Joseph White’s name is not on the list.

The statement was published by the Amethyst Initiative, a nonprofit group dedicated to reexamining youth drinking. While the Amethyst Initiative’s Web site does not spell out a suggested drinking age, it does state a belief that 21 is not working.

By mid-September, 130 different schools had signed the statement, including the presidents of Duke and Ohio State universities.

President E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University supports “an open discussion and debate on alcohol-related issues on and off campus,” according to a statement from Jim Lynch, his director of media relations. President Gee also said in the statement that students, parents, counselors, public officials and members of many other groups should be a part of this open discussion.

“They are exhibiting a lack of common sense,” said University President B. Joseph White in reference to the other university presidents attempting to lower the drinking age.

Although 130 college presidents and chancellors have signed the list, White pointed out that there are more than 3,000 universities and colleges in the country.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been very outspoken against lowering the drinking age.

“The 21 law has saved more than 900 lives each year from 1975 to 2006, equalling over 25,000 saved lives,” said Trisha Clegg, affiliate executive director for MADD Illinois, citing statistics from traffic accidents and deaths due to alcohol poisoning.

Many also argue that the brain continues to change and develop in areas such as judgement until a person is at least in their early 20s, which is another reason MADD disagrees with lowering the legal drinking age to 18, Clegg said.

White also suggested that if, for example, the drinking age were lowered to 18, then suddenly 15- or 16-year-olds would feel more entitled to drink because they would be closer to the legal age.

Patrons of Champaign bars are allowed to enter at the age of 19, making the drinking issue even more controversial for administrators and students alike.

“I think a lot of people in college drink anyway, so if they lower the drinking age there would be less binge drinking,” said Brian Zider, a junior in LAS. “Students wouldn’t be as afraid to call the police or the hospital if they needed it.”

Zider said he is in support of lowering the drinking age; he is not yet 21.

While some students may be in favor of lowering the drinking age, many adults have a different opinion.

“I think that students who want to drink before the age of 21 have always found a means of doing that,” White said. “Whether it’s getting someone else to acquire alcohol for them or creating or buying fake IDs. There are a lot of ways in which underage drinking occurs.”

While several university presidents have signed this petition, actually lowering the drinking age would require lawmakers to support the decision as well.

“Most people looking at this issue would say that common sense suggests that a drinking age of 21 balances the considerations involved,” White added. “Lowering the drinking age to 18 has more negatives that positives, and that’s what common sense is all about. I think these presidents are making the wrong choice.”