21-only is likely to cause other local problems
Saturday, October 16, 2010
By Beth Cody, Writers' Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

With the upcoming election to decide whether to repeal the new 21-only bar entrance age ordinance only two weeks away, there have been many opinions published about this local issue.

I personally believe the ordinance is irrelevant, because the problem isn't students drinking in bars, it's students drinking too much, which they will continue to do regardless of any laws we pass.

But why do college students drink to excess?

Most of the complex causes originate in our national culture, helped along by federal government policies.

The college party time is part of a larger societal trend of delaying adulthood. This is partly the result of our increasing wealth – we can afford to buy our children four more years to study and discover the world, largely free of adult responsibilities.

But there are consequences for delaying adulthood. Many young adults haven't learned how to be responsible by the time they reach college. Their parents have taken care of all their needs and shielded them from responsibility for their actions. They haven't learned how to work or study hard, budget their money, or drink moderately in a supervised setting.

So of course, when they come to college with few responsibilities and lots of time for partying, they will have fun. (Drinking is undeniably fun.)

But why do college students have so much time to party? I suspect it's because too many kids are enrolled in college now.

Our university system bears part of the blame for the partying. Unsustainable spending on facilities and administration can only be covered by more tuition revenue. This contributes to two problems:

1. First, standards and coursework have been steadily dumbed down so that more students can be accepted for study and avoid failing out, which reduces the amount of academic work demanded of students and gives them more time to amuse themselves unprofitably.
2. Second, the university has chosen not to impose any off-campus conduct standards, so repeated drunken behavior and arrests have no academic consequences.

Prospective students know that low academic standards and administrators looking the other way mean that "college" consists of four-plus years of partying, rewarded by a degree (in whatever subject seems fun and easy). Is it any wonder that the University attracts less-than-serious students?

If parents and students were footing the bill for this unproductive party-fest, it would be their problem. But taxpayers are guaranteeing the federal student loan program that ensures that students with doubtful academic skills receive loans that private-sector banks would likely prudently withhold.

Most students would probably be better off having worked or apprenticed a skilled trade during those years, debt-free, assuming adult responsibilities (and likely drinking much less).

But instead, we pass a few laws that try to work against our national culture of youthful irresponsibility, University party compliance and federally-guaranteed party time loans, and what do we get?

The same effectiveness as the disastrous 1920s Prohibition.

Iowa's minimum drinking age was raised from age 19 to age 21 in 1986 as a result of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which coerced states into doing so to avoid losing federal highway funds.

Underage drinkers now consume more than 20% of all alcohol sold in Iowa, so this law has clearly been spectacularly ineffective – even counter-productive – which is why over 100 college presidents nationwide have called for an end to the law.

Not allowing adults to fully exercise all the rights of adulthood:
- is asking for lawbreaking
- only makes the forbidden seem even more fun
- further delays adulthood
- results in a nightmare of enforcement problems and wasting local police resources

So, back to the upcoming election?

It seems to me that voting "yes" does nothing about the causes of the local problem. Voting "no" does nothing about the causes of the local problem, and will likely cause other local problems in turn.