More than 100 colleges and university presidents across the country have signed an initiative in support of lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18.
John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont and founder of Choose Responsibility, extended the "Amethyst Initiative" to college leaders in June.
Since then, 129 signatures have been added to the initiative. The list of supporters primarily includes presidents of small liberal arts colleges, but it also contains the names of leaders of some widely known institutions such as Duke University, Ohio State University and Dartmouth College.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said Chancellor Brady Deaton has not signed the initiative, and said Deaton currently does not have an opinion on the issue.
According to a statement posted on the Amethyst Initiative Web site, the group said the current minimum required age for drinking, established in 1984, is "not working," and that the laws have created a "culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking'."
The statement calls on elected leaders to support an open discourse on the current laws and to reconsider a 10 percent penalty levied upon states' highway funding by the federal government for lowering the minimum drinking age.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has criticized the initiative, calling it "misguided" and charging it with using "misleading information to confuse the public on the effectiveness of the 21 law" in a statement issued from the group on Aug. 19.
"Underage and binge drinking is a tough problem and we welcome an honest discussion about how to address this challenge but that discussion must honor the science behind the 21 law which unequivocally shows that the 21 law has reduced drunk driving and underage and binge drinking," MADD President Laura Dean-Mooney said in the statement.
The release named a U.S. congressman and two U.S. senators that support MADD's position, as well as University of Miami President Donna Shalala, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"As a three-time university president, I can tell you that losing a student to an alcohol-related tragedy is one of the hardest and most heart-rending experiences imaginable," Shalala said. "Signing this initiative does serious harm to the education and enforcement efforts on our campuses and ultimately endangers young lives even more."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the minimum drinking age law has reduced highway fatalities for drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 since its implementation, and has saved an estimated 25,509 lives since 1975.
Grace Kronenberg, an assistant to the director of Choose Responsibility, said the minimum drinking age law was just one of several policy changes enacted at that time to help bring down the levels of highway fatalities.
"To claim that one law has been singularly or mostly responsible for that decrease is intellectually irresponsible," Kronenberg said.
Johns Hopkins University spokesman Dennis O'Shea said JHU President William Brody signed the initiative because it would promote discussion "as to what is a more appropriate approach" to dealing with underage drinking.
O'Shea said current minimum drinking age laws are "driving it underground" and that allowing college students to drink regardless of age will bring drinking into more "open situations" such as bars and parks.
"It will be easier in those situations to control and to have a discussion about what 'safe drinking' is," he said.
MU psychology professor Kenneth Sher said minimum drinking age laws create a policy problem on campuses because some students are old enough to drink while others are not. But he added that the law should stay the same for public health reasons.
"I think there's a problem caused by the policy, but I think it's extremely naive and wrongheaded to assume that lowering the drinking age would create more temperate drinking," Sher said.
- Reporter Ryan Schmitz contributed to this report