The Liability of Liquid Bread

An interesting article in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago does a beautiful job describing the dilemma facing college administrators around the country. For many, the 21 year-old drinking age makes little sense. Thus, when you ask many of the deans, presidents, and professors on campuses around the country for their opinions about drinking, rarely will they extol the benefits of the present drinking age. More often, they will tell of a time while they were in college, when drinking was not stigmatized, and in the open. As much as these individuals may now disagree with the law, they must enforce the drinking age for risk-management purposes:

“One out of three colleges and universities now bans alcohol on campus for any student, including those 21 and older, according to an ongoing study by the Harvard School of Public Health. Two out of five forbid it in any university housing. Half of small colleges restrict alcohol at football games, tailgate parties, concerts and alumni events.
“Georgetown University is considering a campus ban on kegs. At the University of Oklahoma, no alcohol is allowed for students of any age in residence halls, fraternity houses, sorority houses or on the surrounding grounds. No more three strikes and you’re out for students at the University of Colorado at Boulder who violate drinking laws on or off campus — two times will send you packing. At the University of Maryland at College Park, a school employee now lives in each fraternity house on campus to keep an eye on parties and alcohol.”

Making these policies work is all too often left to campus security officers. But when drinking is occurring everywhere by everybody, one must ask whether enforcing a law that no one abides by is time well spent. Surely there are other, more pressing matters like sexual assault, burglary, and alcohol poisoning on campuses that require the attention of campus security. All of these present a greater threat to students than drinking while 18, 19, or 20, versus 21. It is a matter of perception, because by enforcing the 21 year-old drinking age campus officials are being perceived as tough on these other more dangerous threats to students:

According to Brett Sokolow, a risk management consultant, universities have been scrambling ever since to reduce the odds of being sued. Demonstrating that you’re doing all that you can to stem drinking may reduce the size of a potential judgment.”

Unfortunately, these very attempts to combat underage drinking are only pushing drinking behavior further underground, beyond the reaches of the law.

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