The Arizona Desert Lamp

Shelton on the Amethyst Initiative

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 26 August 2008

A few days ago, the Amethyst Initiative made news by releasing a list of over 100 college presidents and other high-ranking officials who had signed onto their program. As the website states, “These higher education leaders have signed their names to a public statement that the 21 year-old drinking age is not working, and, specifically, that it has created a culture of dangerous binge drinking on their campuses.”

President Shelton, however, did not sign on. Below is the text of the email he sent in response:

Some thoughts on the Amethyst Initiative.

Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically are serious
concerns for our society and certainly at universities where so many young
people in the 18-20 age group are present.  It is wise to think about, plan
and execute programs that address these problems.  From my perspective, I do
not believe the issue is sufficiently simple to be solved by lowering the
drinking age.  I have not signed the petition.  The studies with which I am
familiar indicate that starting to drink earlier can lead to more
problematic behavior in later life.  At the UA, we address these issues
through education and programs to inform and assist students.  I offer a
list of some of our interventions below as provided by the VP for Student

-e-CHUG online, educational intervention for incoming UA freshmen,
completed by over 5,500 students in Fall 2007

-U.S. Dept. of Education Model Program status for reducing alcohol
use among UA Greeks

-SAMHSA funded Project CHAT, that screens students for high-risk
drinking and employs motivational interviewing in a one-on-one setting

-SHADE Alcohol Diversion Program for students with alcohol

-A coordinated social norms marketing campaign that aims to
correct misperceptions about student alcohol use.

-UA staff also serve on the following community groups/coalitions
to address underage alcohol use:

-UA Campus and Community Coalition for Alcohol and Other Drug

-Arizona Underage Drinking Prevention Committee

-Pima County – Tucson Commission on Addiction, Prevention and

-Pima County – Tucson Task Force to Reduce Underage Drinking

-Arizona Institutions of Higher Education (AZIHE) Network, a
statewide consortium that proactively addresses alcohol and other drug (AOD)
use issues among youth attending colleges and universities in Arizona

-Southern Arizona DUI Task Force

-Community Prevention Coalition – partially funded by the State of
Arizona Office of Health and Human Services

If I am thinking of the same study that President Shelton is, then it should be made clear that when the issue of “drinking earlier” is brought up, it refers to, “early initiation of alcohol use (before the age of 14) as one risk factor for problems with alcohol later in life.” Once in college, it’s already passed. Meanwhile, the Marines have already lowered the drinking age for their service members overseas.

Also notice the absence of the following words and/or phrases: civil liberties; adulthood; consent; Amendments XVIII or XXI; or highway funding.

Until Shelton changes his mind, however, we can continue to enjoy the wonderful results of these many, educational programs.

(The email also mentioned that it was sent to a Wildcat reporter, so expect this to pop up in the paper in the next few days.)


8 Responses

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  1. ecmendenhall said, on 26 August 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Where exactly did this email come from? Are you already getting anonymous tips? If so, I hope to see some Drudge Report-style ALL CAPS ACTION in the future.

    What strikes me about this response is that it’s a total strawman: “I don’t think lowering the drinking age is the answer, but here’s a list of awesome programs!” (Or, as he ominously describes them, “interventions”).

    Unfortunately, that’s not what the signatories of the Amethyst Initiative are saying. In fact, they don’t actually call for a lower drinking age — just for an informed policy debate. As the group writes on its [a href=””]about page:[/a]
    [blockquote]The statement as finally drafted does not, by design, prescribe a particular policy change. It does, however, state clearly the signatories’ belief that 21 is not working as well as the public may think, that its unintended consequences are posing increasing risks to young people, and that it is time for a serious debate among our elected representatives about whether current public policies are in line with current realities.[/blockquote]

    The [a href=””]actual statement[/a] signed by college presidents reads as follows:
    [blockquote]Our experience as college and university presidents convinces us that…

    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.

    A couple of these are facts, and a couple are judgements, but considering that Shelton believes “underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically” are “serious concerns,” and goes on to rattle off 13 (!) programs combating underage drinking on the UA campus, I don’t see how he can rationally disagree with anything but maybe #2 (though I’d like to see some evidence that education has resulted in “significant behavioural change”).

    The statement goes on:
    [blockquote]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% 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.[/blockquote]

    To wit: “Legislators should think about the consequences of the laws that they pass and welcome new ideas, and there ought to be an informed debate on the drinking age.” Not exactly the Ninety-five theses.

    Thus, this is a very weak response from Shelton, not just because it’s high time for a policy change as a matter of both public health and private morality, but because it rejects the spirit of free inquiry — the very engine of the academy that so often sputters at UA. Shutting down an informed debate — and especially doing so by citing some other studies that indicate something different — is about as anti-rational a policy as I can imagine.

  2. ecmendenhall said, on 26 August 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Oh man…mind fixing all that formatting crap for me? ECM

  3. Evan Lisull said, on 26 August 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Well, it turns out his whole “president of the people” shtick came through this time; I sent him an email, and he replied within two days. Curiously, when I tried to contact him for a column last spring, he never wrote back. Hmmm. . .

    But yeah, this response is cake. Also curious is, excepting Ohio State and Syracuse, the fact that all the signatories are from smaller schools. I don’t know if this a reflection of honest understanding on their part, the fact that they aren’t completely resigned to constant bacchanal, or a combination of the two.

    Also, my apologies; WordPress won’t let me edit comments.

  4. […] much for that argument. An aspect of the drinking age debate that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that if […]

  5. […] MADD spamming was behind Shelton’s weak response, which you can read here. The key line, in my eyes, is, “Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically […]

  6. […] I thought it was bad when President Shelton brushed off the Amethyst Initiative. We don’t need yet another crackdown on underage drinking. We need […]

  7. […] is the paper itself, available at SSRN. Earlier this year, President Shelton dismissed the Amethyst Initiative, citing some studies and listing a number of educational programs at UA targeting alcohol abuse. […]

  8. […] of President Shelton’s refusal to sign the Amethyst Initiative, an item that this site first reported in its infancy, over a year ago. Yet reading it through again (older, wiser!), Shelton’s […]

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