Michael S. Bassis

More than 100 college presidents around the country, including Westminster President Michael Bassis, have added their names to a list hoping to encourage lawmakers in various states to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18.

The premise of the Amethyst Initiative is that current laws, established with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, actually encourage binge drinking on — and off — campus.

"This is a law that is routinely evaded," said John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, who started the organization. "It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory."

Bassis is the first and only president in Utah to include his name on the list, which contains others from well-known colleges and universities such as Dartmouth, Duke, Syracuse, Ohio State and more.

"Irresponsible drinking among young people — college-age and high school students, and even those who are younger — is a nationwide problem," Bassis said. "Westminster vigorously upholds the drinking laws of the state, and the incidents of irresponsible drinking here are substantially lower than on most campuses across the country.

"I signed the Amethyst Initiative because I advocate exploring new ideas and new approaches about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol. I did not sign to advocate changing the legal drinking age from 21 to 18."

The efforts, which aim to erase abstinence as the only legal option for under-21 drinkers, have already begun to draw criticism from individuals and organizations promoting no-alcohol policies.

Officials with Mothers Against Drunk Driving have said lowering the legal drinking age would result in more incidents of drunken driving. They've asked parents to reconsider supporting the colleges and universities that have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative.

"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.

However, the presidents who have signed on, say they have done so in order to thwart irresponsible drinking by college students, which they deem is a big problem on college campuses.

Those included in the petition are not just asking to reduce age limits, but are calling on elected officials to "support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age," as stated in the Amethyst petition. They also want to determine whether the 10 percent penalty to each state's federal highway appropriation, imposed when the 21-year-old age limit is not enforced, "encourages or inhibits" that debate.

The presidents also want to open a discussion that invites new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.


E-mail: [email protected]