Penn State Officials: It’s Time To Sign The Amethyst Initiative

Dear Student Body President Gavin Keirans, Provost Rodney Erickson and President Graham Spanier,

It’s time to rethink the drinking age. After decades of discussion and legitimate concern over the drinking culture at our University, the time has come for our community to engage in a frank, open and honest discussion over how best to foster a healthier drinking climate at Penn State.

The Amethyst Initiative offers the path by which to begin reconciliation and heal our community. The Amethyst Initiative was begun this past summer at a summit of colleges from across America and already has more than 100 signatories. Among the signers are some of the presidents of the most distinguished universities in our country.

The heads of Dartmouth, the University of Maryland, Tufts University, Texas A&M University, Syracuse University, Occidental College and Johns Hopkins University have all signed onto The Amethyst Initiative, to name just a few. Even President E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University — our closest Big Ten peer — has recognized the need for fundamental state and national policy reform in order to more properly educate our youth in responsible adult consumption.

The Amethyst Initiative sprung out of the widely respected non-profit Choose Responsibly and The Robertson Foundation. In its own words, The Amethyst Initiative proposes:

Twenty-One Is Not Working
– A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking” — often conducted off-campus — has developed.
– Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.
– Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.
– By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.

We Call Upon Our Elected Officials:
– To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.
– To consider whether the 10 percent highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.
– To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.
– We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.

While The Amethyst Initiative admits the reality that the current state mandated drinking age is not working — and, in fact, that it is detrimental to a culture of genuine education and responsibility — the initiative does not call upon its signatories to specific legislative action.

In other words, by signing onto The Amethyst Initiative, Penn State University would be showing its commitment to a renewed dialog on responsibility and adult formation. The initiative does not have all the answers, rather, it’s meant to unite those interested in finding the answers.

At Penn State, despite the well intentioned efforts of a broad coalition, including taxpayer funded programs like Late Night Penn State and the Partnership run by Vice President Bill Mahon, the reality is that the drinking culture has only grown worse as students feel more and more pressure to completely abstain from what is a socially accepted adult activity.

In our original alma mater we asked for our university to “mold us, Dear Old State, into men.” Yet, we cannot hope to mold ourselves or for our professors and community to mold us into responsible young adults through an abstinence only approach to alcohol.

The facts, though, speak louder than any words we could offer in support of The Amethyst Initiative. The fact is, unfortunately, that since President Spanier arrived in 1995, alcohol sales have not decreased. Not only have they not gone down, but in fact they have increased substantially.

According to statistics obtained from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), liquor sales alone have more than tripled in number in Centre County just since 1995. Centre County was selling $7.1 million only in liquor at the time of Mr. Spanier’s arrival, and despite the investment of millions of dollars of student and taxpayer funds used to fight the drinking problem through programs, liquor sales totaled more than $21.1 million last year.

Clearly, the conventional approach to fighting dangerous drinking is simply not working. If we are to reawaken the spirit of the student body and help imbue in our incoming freshman the ideals of responsibility, moderation and adult manners, we must plot a new course in how we perceive responsible consumption.

Let us be clear: there is much room for reasonable disagreement on how to go about solving the problem of dangerous drinking, as this recent article demonstrates, yet we cannot hope for better results by continuing to rely on the failed status quo policies that have so far only increased dangerous consumption in Centre County.

Together, we can put our university back on course to a brighter future, and it is with hope that we humbly submit that we, the Pennsylvania State University, should commit ourselves to a more robust dialog and pledge ourselves to The Amethyst Initiative.

The Safeguard Old State Executive Staff