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Drinking age law vaults into debate

August 21, 2008
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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One former university president’s aim to launch a national discussion of the merits of the legal drinking age of 21 suddenly looks like more than a pipe dream.

The effort of former Middlebury College President John McCardell (profiled in the cover story of Addiction Professional last September/October) gained a blitz of national attention this week when it was reported that more than 100 college presidents are now backing the call for a national debate on the drinking age.

A project of McCardell’s organization Choose Responsibility is being supported by major college leaders who believe that the age-21 law has driven campus drinking into the shadows and has created a more dangerous situation than what would result from the drinking age being lowered.

Grace Kronenberg, assistant to the director for Choose Responsibility, says, “Our tiny, three-person organization has been swamped since Tuesday morning with phones ringing off the hook, over 1,000 e-mails, and over 50,000 visitors to our Web site.”

It remains to be seen whether this week’s attention will help fulfill the goal of the college presidents’ Amethyst Initiative: a substantive discussion of the drinking age laws, which are presently tied to states’ receipt of federal highway money. Kronenberg says strident opposition from organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) poses a formidable obstacle.

“By asking presidents to remove their names, and accusing their campus leadership of shirking their duty to protect the safety and welfare of their students, MADD has done little to contribute productively to this growing national debate,” Kronenberg says.