NY Times Letter 9/18/08
To the Editor:
Re: Editorial: Colleges and Binge Drinking (September 17, 2008)
Having helped compose the Amethyst Initiative presidential statement, we want to respond to your statement that “there is strong evidence that college administrations could do a lot more than they are doing to combat the alcohol epidemic.”
You commend “a few schools” that have taken “sensible steps” to control under-age alcohol use. But what you don’t mention is the fact that many colleges and universities for years have been putting into effect the very measures you cite — with frustratingly inadequate results over time. It is, in fact, this futility that led us to sign the Amethyst Initiative.
Our efforts are circumscribed by the current law: young people under 21 cannot legally consume alcohol either on campus or in most off-campus settings. A vast majority of young adults, however, have consumed alcohol before they turn 21.
To comply with the law, college and university presidents are limited to “Just say no.” As a result, drinking has moved behind closed doors or off campus, where detection is next to impossible.
It’s not that we believe easier access might solve the problem. Access is very easy now. It’s that this is not a college and university problem — it is a national problem.
You call for a “dispassionate debate.” We strongly believe that this debate should begin with a much better understanding of the monumental efforts higher education institutions have already taken to control under-age drinking and why they yield such disappointing results.
President, Dickinson College
Carlisle, Pa., Sept. 18, 2008
The letter was also signed by James Phifer, president of Coe College; S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College; Joel Cunningham, president of Sewanee, the University of the South; Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, president of Sweet Briar College; and M. Lee Pelton, president of Willamette University.