Saturday, October 31, 2009

Antiquated notions about drinking

From the Parkville Luminary, 10-30-09

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
--Albert Einstein

With apologies to Einstein, I believe we can apply his famous quote to all sorts of areas of public policy. For example, if our policies regarding young people and drinking are ineffective, but we do nothing to change them, are we collectively insane?

There is a federal 21-year old age minimum for legal drinking, signed in 1984, that is enforced in the states by the threat of withholding of federal highway funding. Here in Parkville, Park University is a dry campus. The university’s alcohol and drug policy prohibits “Display and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages/drugs on campus, in campus facilities or at Park-sponsored activities planned for or by students (and) disruption of other persons on the campus and/or to the residence halls by excessive noise, boisterous behavior or violence while under the influence or impaired by alcohol and/or other illegal or illicit substances, etc.”

It’s time to revisit both policies.

At the federal level, the 21-year age restriction has long been assailed by critics, yet the collective stubbornness of our leadership, combined with political pressure, make even discussing a change in this ineffectual policy dicey.

The 21 year old minimum has done nothing to curb binge drinking. Just this summer a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed that, among college-age males, “binge drinking is unchanged from its levels of 1979; that among non-college women it has increased by 20 percent; and that among college women it has increased by 40 percent.” (John McCardell, 9-16-09). Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “despite efforts at prevention, the prevalence of binge drinking among college students is continuing to rise, and so are the harms associated with it." (

Drunk driving accidents and fatalities are way down, thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and tougher legislation and law enforcement. Indeed, of the 5,000 lives lost to alcohol annually for young people under 21, more than 60% of these deaths occur somewhere other than roads and highways. In other words, these lives were lost as a result of clandestine, unsupervised binge drinking. (National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse). Sadly, several students died “off road” recently due to alcohol abuse at the University of Kansas.

This is why, about a year ago, 135 college and university presidents (but not from Park University) signed the Amethyst Initiative, which advanced a proposition for public debate: “Resolved: That the 21-year-old drinking age is not working.” Certainly, no harm can come from at least debating the issue.

By the same token, no harm can come from revisiting Park University’s dry campus regulation. A proposal related to discussing and possibly recommending rescinding the dry campus (for those over 21) was on the agenda at the Park Faculty Senate meeting today. The proposed resolution cited several justifications, including “a culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking” that has developed…(Also), alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students, and adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.”

The faculty senate can only make recommendations. Even if they recommend the repeal of the dry campus policy for those over 21, a final decision on the matter would still have to be made by administration and ultimately the board of trustees.

Failure to discuss these issues, just like employing the same policy over and over again and expecting a different result, is, if not insane, then certainly ill-advised.

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