October 3, 2008

Administrators Against Lowering Drinking Age

Print More

Yesterday afternoon the Student Assembly hosted a discussion regarding the Amethyst Initiative that featured seven Cornell administrators. Panelists were asked to present their views and exchange ideas about the Initiative and what changing the drinking age from 21 to 18 would do the Cornell community.
None of them were in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18.
Instead, most panelists argued that the drinking age is a health issue. Tim Marchell, director of Gannett Health Services, referred to national statistics supporting the current drinking age. For example, national fatalities are reduced by 11 percent because of the older legal drinking age.
“The scientific evidence is compelling,” he said.
Allen Bova, director of Risk Management and Insurance, agreed. “Every death, every sexual assault, confirms that opinion that students under 21 should not consume alcohol,” he said.
The conversation focused on the problem of binge drinking on college campuses, which the Amethyst Initiative has shed light over the past few months. Although recognizing the hazard, S.A. members questioned panelists on issues of “rights” and personal choices.
Representative Vincent Andrews ’11 questioned why 18 year olds are allowed to vote, go to war, take out college loans, but they are not able to drink. “How is such a law able to exist?” he asked.
Tony Miller ’10, S.A. vice president of internal operations, mirrored this view. He said, “We are adults, we have the right to make mistakes. Isn’t that a right we have?”
Panelists did not dwell on the issue of “rights.” Although Marchell expressed some sympathy about inconsistent laws, Bova said it like it is: “Life’s not fair.”
Prof. William Sonnenstuhl, international labor relations, and the only non-administrative member of the panel, agreed. “You’re not going to win the day by talking about your individual rights. This has been framed as a public health issue. The way to win the day, the way to come out of this in a different place is to address the issue of the binge drinking culture. Demonstrate to your elected officials that you can be responsible and control it.”[img_assist|nid=32405|title=Talk it out|desc=C.U. administrators discuss implications of the Amethyst Initiative and risks associated with lowering the drinking age to 18 yesterday in The Straight yesterday|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Marchell acknowledged that even with the current drinking age, it is necessary that people within the community work to find solutions to binge drinking. Referring to Slope Day, a day many think of as not much more than a day to get drunk, he said the community has worked over the past few years to bring drinking under control.
The Amethyst Initiative was created by a group of college presidents in June with the goal of inciting discussion about the effectiveness of the current drinking age. In August, 129 presidents of colleges and universities around the country had signed the initiative supporting an investigation to lower the drinking age back to 18. President David Skorton did not sign the initiative.
But as Marchell said, Skorton most likely had no intention of terminating a healthy exchange of ideas such as the one yesterday afternoon.
“I feel really good about the fact that students are willing to be involved and participate in an open dialogue about these issues rather than just sitting and grumbling quietly to themselves,” said Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant.
Although many were happy with the panel, S.A. Representative Asa Craig ’11 was surprised by the lack of student turnout with fewer than 10 non-S.A. student attendees. He said he expected students to turn up to protest Skorton’s refusal to sign the Amethyst Initiative.
S.A. President Ryan Lavin ’09 felt that the panel provided the open forum to discuss the Amethyst Initiative that was needed. He said he does not think that the views of the panelists should be viewed as a correct representation of Cornell as a whole.
“I think they were definitely looking at the issues from an administrative approach,” he said.