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Monday, November 24, 2008

What is the Amethyst Initiative?

From the Amethyst Initiative website:

Launched in July 2008, the Amethyst Initiative is made up of chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States. These higher education leaders have signed their names to a public statement that the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses.

The Amethyst Initiative supports informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old drinking age. Amethyst Initiative presidents and chancellors call upon elected officials to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.

The Amethyst Initiative's claim that they do not specifically endorse lowering of the drinking age is disingenuous. Would they have us believe that their efforts only encourage discussion of the issue and that they have no a priori position? The fact that they sarcastically announce on their website that they are the recipients of the first annual WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) “Millstone Award” for activities that “promote unhealthy, illegal, or immoral behavior” says much about who and what they are.

The Amethyst Initiative was founded of John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College, and claims to advocate a fresh look at the abuse of alcohol by college students. Specifically, “binge drinking” is a major concern in colleges and universities across America from the elite Ivy League intitutions to small community colleges. The rate of binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more for women has remained steady since the 1990s, but the intensity has increased with many students exceeding the definition three and four times over.

College and university administrators are seemingly powerless to control this rise in drug and alcohol abuse. Enforcement could drive students away and gain the institution the reputation of being strict and unfriendly to students and could result in lowered admissions and loss of revenue.

The Amethyst Initiative is nothing more than a group of university presidents and chancellors who wish to relieve themselves of the responsibility of controlling alcohol use on their campuses. If the drinking age is lowered to 18, as they propose (and they certainly do), and students end up in emergency rooms and morgues because of alcohol abuse they can then issue statements expressing their sincere regrets but adding “what can we do, they are after all of legal drinking age.”

A 2007 story in USA Today reported on a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

Nearly half of America's 5.4 million full-time college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month, according to a new study that portrays substance and alcohol abuse as an increasingly urgent problem on campuses across the nation.

Alcohol remains the favored substance of abuse on college campuses by far, but the abuse of prescription drugs and marijuana has increased dramatically since the mid-1990s, according to the study released today by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

CASA, which called on educators to move more aggressively to counter intensifying drug and alcohol use among students, first studied students' drug and alcohol habits in 1993. Today's report — the center's second on the subject — involved a survey of 2,000 student and 400 administrators as well as analyses of six national studies.
The center found that ‘the situation on America's campuses has deteriorated’since 1993, CASA President Joseph Califano said.

The study found that college students have higher rates of alcohol or drug addiction than the general public: 22.9% of students meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence — a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences — compared with 8.5% of all people 12 and older.

School administrators have not done enough to curtail drug and alcohol abuse on campus, Califano says. In CASA's survey of administrators, two-thirds said responsibility for stopping drug abuse rests with students.

'It's not on the radar screen of college presidents. This is not a priority,' Califano says. 'We believe they have an obligation to protect the health and safety of their students.'

The goal of the Amethyst Initiative is to relieve college and university administrators of that obligation. One has to wonder what will be the cost in students’ health and lives if there is no one to look out for their well-being when they are away from home, immature and subject to untoward influences?

See related Editorial in the New York Times.


Colin said...

I agree almost entirely here, Bob. The only thing that decreases when the drinking age is lowered is the liability of those in charge. Nonsense.

I don't necessarily see a huge increase in fatality or crime associated with a decrease in the drinking age to 18 (studies swing both ways on that, and it remains unclear), but this whole campaign is totally disingenuous. These folks want to decrease the number of lawyers they retain, not decrease the amount of binge drinking on campus.

We waste FAR to much time and money in this country on solutions to the DnA problem and legislation re: the DnA problem that are entirely ineffective.

What we should do is promote effective treatment for addicts and alcoholics promote and healthy, open discussion about the issue at the family level. We can disagree about what's effective and who should and will pay for it, but that's for another day. Developing a relationship with God is likely the most effective, but it's a challenging one for the government to promote, if the government should be promoting any.

This is an issue that hits home for me in the same way it does for you, Bob. Folks that have not dealt with the issue personally or at a family level don't see how ridiculous proposals by "normal" people are.

This is really good work, and I would love to read any more that you find on the DnA problem. Thanks.

Dr. Theo said...

Thank you for your comments, Colin. I am sad to say that the president of my university is one of the signers of the AI. But he will be very quick to tell you that ours is a smoke free campus and tolerates no "hate speech" of any kind. (Well, that's not entirely true; Christians, of course are always fair game.) But ours is a "diverse" community with appropriate quotas of different colors and sexual orientations and no criticism of protected groups is tolerated. A diversity of ideas is strictly forbidden.

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