Based on her opposition to Anheuser-Busch’s “Fan Cans,” it would seem like President Mary Sue Coleman is concerned about binge drinking. After the University sent a letter objecting to the marketing ploy — which would produce beer cans in blue and yellow and distribute them in the Ann Arbor area — the beer company agreed not to sell them on campus. But no matter how justified, Coleman’s opposition to the Fan Cans is hypocritical. If she wants to show real leadership on the issue of binge drinking, she will reverse her position on the Amethyst Initiative — a sensible petition that asks Congress to examine the issue of the drinking age — and, at long last, sign it.
As part of a marketing scheme to appeal to the college-aged beer drinker, Anheuser-Busch decided to produce Bud Light cans decorated with the colors of 27 targeted universities — the University of Michigan among them. After the University sent a complaint to Anheuser-Busch alleging that such a ploy would increase the prevalence of binge drinking on campus, the company agreed not to sell the beer in the University community. But the University went further, insisting in another letter that the University community is not limited to its campus, and that Anheuser-Busch should not sell the Fan Cans anywhere in the state of Michigan.
Such insistence should indicate that the University administration is taking the problem of binge drinking seriously. But Coleman’s absolute refusal to sign the Amethyst Initiative is sending mixed messages. It’s hard to imagine that the University is really interested in dealing with binge drinking when reevaluating the drinking age isn’t even on the table.
The Amethyst Initiative, introduced in July 2008 and signed by 135 college presidents, does not call for the drinking age to be lowered. It simply asks Congress to reexamine the issue and determine whether the current drinking age of 21 is a successful policy. This is a legitimate question — since the drinking age was changed to 21 in 1984 under the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, there has been an increase in deaths and accidents related to underage and binge drinking.
Generating discussion about the responsible age for drinking and its connection to binge drinking should never be discouraged. And considering Coleman’s background as a researcher, it’s especially troubling that she would not agree with an initiative that only asks for more study to be done on the relationship between binge drinking and the current drinking age. Her absolute rejection of the Amethyst Initiative shows not only that she stands steadfastly behind a drinking age that may be unhealthy, but also that her support for researching new ideas and possibilities is dishonest.
Taken in stride, the University’s strong reaction to Anheuser-Busch’s Fan Cans is hardly demonstrative of a serious commitment to reducing binge drinking. The Amethyst Initiative is an attempt to deal with one of the biggest issues on college campuses. Until Coleman’s signature is among the many who have already expressed support for the initiative, any expressed interest in preventing binge drinking can hardly be taken seriously.