Just over a year after the Amethyst Inititive to re-examine the legal drinking age was launched, 135 college and university presidents have signed on, and just 27 of them are from public colleges.
That same ratio seems to be playing out in Virginia.
Of the seven Virginia college and university presidents who either signed on to the initiative or said they support it in a survey by The Roanoke Times, six lead private schools, and just one is at a public university: Charles Steger of Virginia Tech.
“Unfortunately, as a large university, Virginia Tech experiences the problems associated with college-age drinking all too often,” Steger said in a statement submitted as part of the survey. “The ‘binge drinking’ rate at Virginia Tech is 58.4 percent, far above the national average of 42 percent.
“The Amethyst Initiative, fundamentally, seeks to open a nationwide dialogue on misuse of alcohol. I signed the initiative to help facilitate this discussion. I applaud and support that effort.”
In all, 18 of Virginia’s 44 four-year, residential colleges and universities in Virginia completed all or part of the survey, and two more who did not complete the survey have declared their support for the initiative on the Amethyst Initiative Web site.
Five of the schools that responded to the survey said they oppose the initiative, three of them public schools.
Another eight schools said they were undecided in the survey, six of them public.
You can see the first wave of survey responses here. You’ll find an interactive map of all the schools we surveyed and the schools’ unabridged answers to the parts of the survey related to our coverage so far in our Under 21 series. The series looks at the Amethyst Initiative and college drinking in general.
The survey responses suggest relatively weak opposition to the initiative, and a lot of indecision about it.
That’s especially true among the state’s taxpayer-supported public colleges, for whom the notion that the 21-year drinking age has led to more clandestine and heavier drinking and ought to be re-considered seems to be a touchy one.
As Longwood University in Farmville pointed out in its survey response, supporting a re-consideration of the legal drinking age can be more complicated for a school that depends on taxpayers.
“We answer to a higher authority and our number one priority has always been, and continues to be, the safety and security of our students,” the school said. “It’s a matter of trust between our students, their parents and us.”
The University of Virginia’s John Casteen, who also said he’s undecided, acknowledged in an address to parents in August 2008 that changing the drinking age to 18 would make life simpler for college administrators, who would then have student bodies almost uniformly of legal drinking age. But he isn’t convinced it would be a good idea on the whole.
“I’ve encouraged the people involved in this Amethyst Initiative … to lay out their evidence to show how they can assert that there is no appreciable difference between behavior at age 18 and behavior at age 21,” he said. “I fear sometimes that part of the motive here is to make the lives of college deans and dorm head residents, and so on, easier. I don’t think that’s the point. But I’m also perfectly willing to be persuaded by good evidence.”
Radford University’s Penelope Kyle found the same lack of compelling evidence reason enough to oppose the initiative.
“There is still no compelling evidence that clearly demonstrates that lowering the drinking age to 18 would, in fact, ameliorate problematic drinking behaviors of college students,” the university said in accounting for Kyle’s position.
While public colleges seem reluctant to sign on, three schools with religious affiliations who responded to the survey support the initiative.
Billy Greer, president of the United Methodist Church-affiliated Virginia Wesleyan, “believes that the proposed 18-year-old requirement for drinking alcoholic beverages is more in line with both the reality of what already occurs and the appropriate rights for that age individual,” the college said in its statement.
A number of religious schools that didn’t complete the survey, such as Regent University and Patrick Henry College, oppose drinking in general, regardless of age.