Former Middlebury College president wants to lower drinking age
By WILSON RING The Associated Press | February 16,2007
MONTPELIER — The former president of Middlebury College is forming an organization that will attempt to lower the drinking age to 18 for young adults who have passed an alcohol education course.
John McCardell said he planned to work full-time for at least the next year promoting the goals of the just-formed organization "Choose Responsibility."
He said federal and state laws that raised the drinking age to 21 did little to keep young people between the ages of 18 and 21 from consuming alcohol. Instead, the laws drove drinking underground and — over the last 20 years — have helped fuel a surge in binge drinking, he said.
"We need to, I think, take our heads out of the sand and open our eyes to the reality and say to ourselves 'Aren't we better off trying to educate young people about alcohol and trusting them to exercise adult responsibility in the same way that we trust them when they are appointed to juries or sent to Iraq," he said Thursday.
"Our goal is to raise this issue both locally and ultimately nationally and to do what we can to give the public information on both sides of the question," McCardell said. "Legal age 21 has had unintended consequences and the public needs to know about what those are."
The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and others, point to statistics that say raising the drinking age has saved tens of thousands of lives over the last two decades.
MADD's chief executive, Chuck Hurley, said it was a bad idea to lower the age.
"There are serious problems with binge drinking and with underage drinking. The drinking age is working better in blue-collar America than it is in Ivy League America. With all those problems, would any of them be benefitted by a decrease in the drinking age? Everything in the peer-reviewed literature says no," Hurley said.
In 1984, the federal government adopted the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which required states to raise the drinking age or lose transportation money. Vermont quickly followed suit even though many political leaders were philosophically opposed to the idea.
Two years ago, state Rep. Richard Marron, R-Stowe, introduced a bill that would have lowered the drinking age to 18, but it didn't pass.
Gov. Jim Douglas said Thursday he favored the concept.
"Philosophically, I've always said that Vermonters achieve the age of majority and that ought to be an appropriate age for everything else," Douglas said.
"I don't know how practical an idea it is," he added, noting that Congress forced states' hands by threatening to withhold transportation funds if they didn't raise the age to 21.
McCardell, who has spoken out publicly about the drinking age issue before, said colleges and universities, in particular, were making concerted efforts to keep students under age 21 from drinking alcohol.
"They are driving it behind closed doors, they are driving it underground and they are driving it off campus," McCardell said. "Drinking that is not out in the open, drinking that is unsupervised, drinking that we pretend isn't taking place, is drinking that is dangerous, drinking that is putting both young adults and other innocent people at greater risk."
McCardell, who left his position as Middlebury president in 2004, said many sitting college presidents were reluctant to discuss the issue.
McCardell said no one was in favor of destructive uses of alcohol.
"Choose Responsibility" has three staff members, McCardell and two assistants. It is being funded with a grant from The Robertson Foundation of New York, McCardell said.
"Choose Responsibility" was incorporated earlier this year. It is not affiliated with Middlebury College.
McCardell said the organization did not have any plans to ask a lawmaker to introduce legislation.
"This is really going to be a grass-roots effort that will have all the improvisational nature of grass roots," McCardell said. "I want to educate the public on this issue and that's my goal."