A group of college and university presidents and chancellors from around the country have put their names on something called the Amethyst Initiative, calling for "informed and unimpeded debate on the 21-year-old drinking age" because "21 is not working."

At the crux of the matter is a serious push to lower the drinking age somewhere closer to 18, the typical age of college freshmen, a change that the presidents' initiative suggests would help cure a "culture of dangerous binge drinking on their campuses."

Pointing out that people under 21, i.e. 18, can vote, fight for their country and serve on juries, the presidents wonder why these same individuals "are told they are not mature enough to have a beer."

So what's next: School-sponsored keg parties? Beers with the president? Back to school night sponsored by Budweiser?

Remember when students used to storm the administration building when they didn't like what was happening? Well, this is the reverse of that. The administration is doing the storming for them.

Among the crusading presidents is Michael Bassis of Salt Lake City's Westminster College, who says he doesn't advocate changing the legal drinking age from 21 to 18 but does advocate "exploring new ideas and new approaches about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol."

But however Bassis wants to spin it, his message to anyone underage at Westminster is implicit: The law is stupid. You don't have to obey it.

Which is pretty much the whole problem with the minimum drinking age rule — a lack of enforcement by people who ought to be enforcing it, starting with parents and going from there.

Problems arising from alcohol consumption kill 100,000 Americans a year — the third biggest cause of death next to poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000) and tobacco (435,000). If kids smart enough to graduate from high school and get into Dartmouth, Amherst and Westminster aren't smart enough to know that's the reason there is a minimum drinking age and it should be respected, whatever that age happens to be, what about the kids who get out of high school and buy a truck?

And even if college students might be fuzzy on the concept, college presidents shouldn't be.

And what sensitivity are the college presidents showing to the high schools, who, if the Amethysts have their way, would inherit binge-drinking and other problems associated with immaturity as 16- and 17-year-olds become the new 18 and start thinking they are close enough to fudge the rules?

You'd think college presidents would be smarter than this. But then it's college presidents who have effectively kept America from having a collegiate football championship.

Although it should be pointed out that the vast majority of the 123 presidents and chancellors who have signed the Amethyst Initiative — Amethyst, by the way, in a nice academic touch, is a word derived from Greek mythology that means "non intoxicated" — are not from major, football-playing universities. A few on the list, like Duke, Ohio State and Syracuse are large schools, but most are small, private, liberal arts schools — heavy on the liberal — like Westminster. The only other Intermountain West institutions represented are Colorado College, College of Idaho and Mesa State College.

Rather than showing students how to be activists, wouldn't it be nice if college presidents showed them how to respect and obey the law? Call a crime a crime. Bounce them from school if they're under 21 and get caught drunk. Or make them clean the lavatories. Anything but agreeing with them over beers.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.