THE BLOG
04/26/2011 11:19 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2011

Are College Presidents Encouraging Teen Drinking?

Why are some college presidents and chancellors (136 of them), appearing to encourage teen drinking by signing on to the "Amethyst Initiative" which seeks to lower the legal drinking age?

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), is encouraging parents nationwide to talk with their teens about underage drinking. MADD has partnered with Nationwide Insurance to get parents and teens to start talking. But will it do any good?

Well, Pennsylvania State University Prof. Robert Turrisi thinks so. His research shows when parents talk with their teens about the dangers of alcohol and underage drinking, their children do pay attention to their parents' words of warning by altering their behavior. Turrisi believes that parents should have an ongoing conversation with their teens, and offer them ways to cope with peer pressure to drink.

Towards that end, MADD is offering a free download, giving parents information about how to broach the subject and how to help their kids deal with peer pressure to drink.

When I was a student at Dartmouth College with its fraternity lifestyle and beer kegs in the 1970s, I wore an amethyst ring of my mother's. I remember a guy I dated from Beta Theta Pi, remarking on the beauty of the stone and its delicate silver antique setting. Never did I dream that years later, 136 college presidents and chancellors would get together to lower the nation's drinking age with the amethyst as their "mascot"! For according to the ancient Romans and Greeks, the purple stone, when worn, prevents drunkenness. That's not why I was wearing it. And for the record, it did not ward off intoxication.

Recently, Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts announced it is trying to get its students to drink on campus, instead of off-campus, because there have been too many complaints from the townspeople about rowdy college students disrupting the peace and engaging in acts of vandalism.

Colleges need to get out of the business of encouragin­g students to drink, period! This nod and a wink to underage drinking on college campuses is very wrong and frankly subjects universiti­es to all sorts of potential liabilitie­s. Stop worrying about "town/gown­" relations, and worry about saving students' and townspeopl­e's lives! As First Lady Nancy Reagan said in the 1980s, which is still great advice today, "Just say no!"

What these college presidents and chancellors should be asking themselves is this. Does getting a college education include encouraging students to drink? Shouldn't adults be working on changing the drinking culture on our nation's campuses, instead of on lowering the drinking age?

That's what Chancellor Charles Sorenson is trying to do at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie after the sixth alcohol-related death in two years. His school was the first to receive the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 2002 from President Bush, an award which recognizes U.S. businesses and nonprofits for performance excellence. Why not follow the lead of a chancellor whose school has been honored by the president for performance excellence, in discouraging students from drinking -- not just off campus -- but from drinking anywhere?

Let's be honest with our teens. Who wants to kiss someone who smells like a beer keg? All the mouthwash in the world will not drown out that stench. Same goes for hard liquor. The hard truth is that booze and drugs affect your performance in a myriad of unwelcome ways.

Lowering the drinking age will not discourage binge drinking as the Amethyst Initiative has suggested. It will only encourage younger and younger kids to imbibe. Some college presidents don't think its fair that half the campus gets to drink legally and the other half -- the younger kids -- don't. He's right. That's an argument for raising the drinking age to 23. Not lowering it. Then, it's illegal for all of them. But if at 18 years of age, they are old enough to be in our nation's military and fight our wars for us, shouldn't they be allowed to drink, too? No. Nothing is scarier than a drunk kid with a gun. At 18 years of age, they are not mature enough to handle their liquor.

Sharon Lamb, a psychology professor at St. Michael's College in Vermont and the co-author of the twin books Packaging Girlhood and Packaging Boyhood was quoted in USA Today, saying that cartoons are now "teaching little boys that you bond by getting drunk." Is that the message we want to send our children? I thought little boys bonded by playing team sports. And girls, too.

On July 17, 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed. It set the minimum age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcoholic beverages at 21. States that failed to adhere, would lose a percentage of federal funding for their highways. All 50 states did adhere. Let's keep it that way.