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Monday, September 01, 2008

Do any SD college presidents support lowering the drinking age?

By Gordon Garnos

THE ISSUE: Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age in 1984, setting that age at 21 throughout the land. Several states before then allowed those 18 and older to drink beer and liquor. Now, more than 100 college presidents have signed a statement supporting the Amethyst Initiative which, in effect, asks that the legal drinking age be lowered back to 18. In searching the internet, I was unable to find a list of those college presidents, but wondered if any of our college presidents in South Dakota signed the statement of support? If they did, they shouldn't have.

THOSE 100 OR SO college presidents who are asking Congress to reconsider the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act have obviously had too many cocktails that have pickled their thinking process. At the same time they are trying to come up with ways that will curb binge drinking on their campuses. They contend the current law actually encourages dangerous binge drinking on campuses.

There is no question that binge drinking at any age level can kill, even in high schools. Examples of these deaths have made the newspapers more than once. But so have numerous stories that have been published about our young people being killed on our streets and highways from abusive drinking. Many of them have been innocent victims of drunk drivers as well.

According to the South Dakota Department of Highway Safety, last year (2007) there were 146 highway fatalities and 25 of these deaths were people, South Dakotans, under the age of 21. Twelve of those 25 were alcohol related deaths. Also, from Jan. 1 to Aug. 25 last year there were 103 highway fatalities in South Dakota and 41 of those were alcohol related. For the same time this year (2008) there have been 69 highway deaths and of those fatalities 22 of them were alcohol related. From these numbers it is clear that while binge drinking is a problem, so are the numbers taken from us on our streets and highways because of booze.

These college presidents and others feel the drinking age should be the same as joining the military, voting age, signing a contract or owning a car or a house. However, these generally don't have the potential that can lead to death.

IN FACT, THESE presidents should read the recently published College Alcohol Study by the Harvard school of Public Health. The study found that binge drinking wasn't so much as a hurry-up drunk thing as it was a reflection of the culture and conditions created or tolerated by schools.

Researchers also found that those colleges that are permissive or look the other way when it comes to their students boozing are more likely to have binge drinking than those schools that have policies banning booze and have substance-free housing. And, as strange as it sounds, researchers also found through numerous studies that 18 to 21 year olds drank more before the law was changed in 1984. Researchers have also found that 21-year-olds are generally more mature than 18-year-olds and, thus, more likely to be able to better handle alcohol.

Whether it is binge drinking or being in a fatal car accident, in both incidents, the end result way too often is death. We have seen both incidents happening to young South Dakotans and reported in our South Dakota newspapers. Incidents of such drinking have been reported at both of South Dakota's largest universities. But so have fatal car accidents with alcohol involvement.

MOTHERS AGAINST Drunk Driving (MADD) notes that lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. The organization is blaming college presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. The leaders in MADD are even urging parents to give some major thought about sending their kids to the colleges whose presidents have signed the statement.

Drinking on campuses is about as old as the campuses. But that doesn't make it right. But for college presidents to condone a lower drinking age is as wrong as wrong can be. I just hope none of our South Dakota college presidents are on that list to lower the drinking age. Perhaps our Regents should take a look at that list.....

P.S.: Two criticisms were received after last week's column hit the newspapers. The inference was they didn't like the word "godfather" connected to any of the leaders of the South Dakota Democratic Party. "Sounds too much like the Mafia," one wrote.

Perhaps I should have said Senator Johnson is already a member of the pantheon of the South Dakota Democratic Party....

Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.


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