Wake up and smell the vodka

John McCardell Jr. thinks underage drinking on college campuses is one of the most profound problems facing administrators and students.


But there is a new contribution the president emeritus of Middlebury College would like to make to stop the dangerous and criminal (albeit common) act of drinking underage: He wants to make the legal drinking age 18 and he’s actually acting on those plans.

As he served 13 years as the president of the Vermont college, McCardell said he saw a disturbing amount of alcohol problems that hurt all age groups on campus. Pressure from the local community to more severely punish off-campus offenders caused him more of a headache than those with a wretched hangover as he tried to balance pleasing the community members as well as parents who felt the codes were too strict for their students who were participating in, what many called, a rite of passage. (Sound familiar? Cough, Kent’s new noise ordinance, cough.)

He said the 21-and-up-law fosters “a culture of surreptitious, high-risk drinking and forces administrators to choose between policing their students and looking the other way,” as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s interesting to hear this argument from someone in the trenches trying to apply this law rather than talking heads creating such regulations.

We’ve all heard the argument that if an 18-year-old can die for his or her country, that individual should certainly be allowed to legally pound a few Bud Lights. We’ve all heard the argument that Europe has a lower drinking and driving and alcohol abuse rate because drinking alcohol is a part of their culture and it’s not seen as the taboo it is here in the United States. We’ve all heard the argument that if a person is an adult at age 18, it is unjust to prohibit that person from drinking alcohol.

McCardell, however, brings a different argument to the table – and an important one at that.

As a result of publishing a New York Times column about the drinking age law being a “bad social policy and terrible law,” he received a $50,000 grant from the Robertson Foundation to study how effective the law really was. A year later, he reported that those who tout the law’s positive side effects (saving lives, reducing drunk driving) fail to take into account better recent seat-belt and airbag safety, stricter drunk driving laws and public-information campaigns – all of which would have made a major impact on preventing alcohol-related fatalities.

Basically, he’s saying that the under-21 law isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be and is resulting in a glorification of binge drinking. It’s good to see someone who’s been in an authoritative position who would typically support the underage law making this argument because unfortunately it receives less attention if an 18-year-old is fighting for the right to drink. Legislators should wake up and take into account these additional arguments instead of hiding behind the idealization that this law is benefiting everyone involved.

They need to start considering all causes and all effects in this old-aged underage battle.

The above editorial is the consensus opinions of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.