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Why Sign?

"Why I Signed"

        Amethyst Initiative Presidents in their own words

Learn More About the Drinking Age Debate:

Frequently Asked Questions about the Presidential Statement

  • How do I sign the Presidential Statement?
  • What does signing the statement commit me to do?
  • Who wrote the Presidential Statement?
  • Does signing the statement mean I favor a lower drinking age?
  • Why the reference to the “10% highway fund ‘incentive’?”
  • What sort of “new ideas” might help better prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol?
  • How are Choose Responsibility and the Amethyst Initiative related?
  • Does signing the Presidential Statement mean I embrace the Choose Responsibility agenda?

    How do I sign the Presidential Statement?

    To sign the Presidential Statement, visit the “Statement” section of this website. There you will see the text of the statement as well as a link to download a PDF copy. Review and print the statement, then sign where indicated, also listing your name and institution. Return the signed statement either by mail to PO Box 507, Middlebury, VT 05753, or by facsimile to 802-398-2029. Note: the Presidential Statement is intended to be signed only by college and university presidents and/or chancellors.

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    What does signing the statement commit me to do?

    Signing the statement, first, represents a public statement of the belief that we need to have a serious, sustained, unfettered debate about how closely public policy-specifically the drinking age-and the reality of life in a campus community are aligned. Signing the statement commits you, therefore, to participate in a national discussion of this issue and to give leadership to how that same discussion is carried out on your campus. Signing the statement commits you to describing, as clearly and fully and compellingly as you can, the place of alcohol in your own campus community. Signing the statement, finally, commits you to making sure the discussions in which you are engaged, or which you will lead, are civil, informed, and dispassionate, weighing all evidence, excluding no credible participants, and considering all policy alternatives, no matter how controversial, assuming that, once the discussion has run its course, and all voices have been heard, either policy and reality will be seen to be in alignment or policy will be changed to reflect reality more clearly.

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    Who wrote the Presidential Statement?

    The Presidential Statement was drafted by John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College, and eight college presidents from around the nation. These presidents were the founding members of Amethyst Initiative. They are: James Phifer, Coe College, William Durden, Dickinson College, S. Georgia Nugent, Kenyon College, Robert Lindgren, Randolph-Macon College, Joel Cunningham, Sewanee: University of the South, Carol Christ, Smith College, Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, Sweet Briar College, M. Lee Pelton, Willamette University.

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    Does signing the statement mean I favor a lower drinking age?

    Not necessarily. The Presidential Statement does not advocate a specific drinking age. Someone who favors raising the age could also sign this statement. That said, presidents who have signed the statement generally believe that the drinking age plays a role in shaping the culture of alcohol on their campuses. It would be impossible to address the issue of alcohol on college campuses and exclude the drinking age and its effects from the discussion. But presidents will differ over the degree to which the drinking age is a part of the problem. That is probably why some presidents have signed this statement and others have chosen not to sign.

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    Why the reference to the “10% highway fund ‘incentive’?"

    The 1984 law did not set a national drinking age. Instead, it imposed on any state setting its drinking age lower than 21 a 10% reduction in its annual federal highway appropriation. That is why “incentive” is in quotation marks. This provision has effectively stifled meaningful debate over the drinking age. In 2009 Congress will need to pass reauthorization of the transportation bill, and thus 2009 provides the opportunity to consider removing the “incentive.” Removing the incentive will not, by itself, change the drinking age in any state. Only the state legislature can do that. But removal will allow serious discussion and debate to be resumed, after a 24-year hiatus, and that is a good thing.

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    What sort of “new ideas” might help better prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol?

    Once the highway fund “incentive” is removed, states will be free to consider alternatives to the 21 year-old drinking age. States may consider extending the right to purchase, possess and consume alcohol to 18-20 year-olds, while still treating them as a special group. One way to do this may be through mandatory alcohol education and licensing, which could be incorporated into graduated driver licensing plans which are already in place in all states. An alcohol education curriculum that includes study of history, culture, law, chemistry, biology, neuroscience as well as exposure to accident victims and individuals in recovery would attach a seriousness and comprehensiveness now lacking in the preparation of young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol. Once young adults have completed the alcohol education course, as well as completed high school and not violated the alcohol laws of the issuing state, they could receive a permit, or license, allowing them to purchase, possess, and consume alcohol like the adults the law says, in all other respects, they are. Other ideas states may want to consider are lower alcohol content (3.2% ABV) beer for 18-20 year-olds, spilt purchase ages for beer, liquor, and wine, and different provisions for on-premise and off-premise alcohol purchase and consumption.

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    How are Choose Responsibility and the Amethyst Initiative related?

    The Amethyst Initiative is a project of Choose Responsibility founder and President John McCardell. It is administered by Choose Responsibility staff. See here for more information about the genesis of the Amethyst Initiative.

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    Does signing the Presidential Statement mean I embrace the Choose Responsibility agenda?

    You need not embrace the specific policy proposals of Choose Responsibility to support that group’s effort to get debate over the effects of the drinking age launched. By signing onto the Amethyst Initiative, presidents are only committing themselves to supporting informed debate about the drinking age. Whether or not you support Choose Responsibility’s proposal, you may choose to credit that organization with raising the issue and trying to get debate resumed.

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