New Sharon Herzberger Boner: Whittier College President Signs
'Amethyst Initiative', An Effort To Avoid Liability For Student Drinking

A small number of U. S. college presidents, joined together under the banner of their so-called 'Amethyst Initiative', are seeking to cause the lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18 - so that colleges might avoid liability for minor students drinking on their campuses. This is all the more stunning when one considers the facts that these are college presidents, at least of sorts, and that virtually every study addressing drinking age has concluded that it should remain set at 21 - because the studies show that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 saves student and community lives and protects property from immature drinkers.

Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger claims that she was concerned about student drinking in her capacity as Vice-President for Student Services at Trinity College, years before she arrived at Whittier College, yet in her statement published on the Amethyst Initiative website, Sharon claims that she's looking forward to "becoming better informed about the research evidence and to working with you the other presidents in the Amethyst Initiative..." Why do the Trustees of Whittier College continue to support, rather luxuriously, as the College's President an individual who still isn't familiar with the scientific literature on student drinking and age?!

This presidential sloth is as consistently as she is persistently wrong. Sharon Herzberger earlier failed to familiarize herself with the scientific literature regarding artificial turf, yet enthusiastically oversaw its installation in the College's stadium, where it now silently poisons everyone in its vicinity and beyond through dispersal of potentially deadly gasses and particulate matter into the air, soil and groundwater; and, the older the artificial turf becomes, the more deadly its emissions. One would think a college president might suspect something amiss when a product can only be disposed of at a licensed hazardous waste site! And, whittiergate made sure that Whittier College couldn't later claim ignorance of artificial turf's hazards before it was installed on campus.

It's to be noted that Athletic Department spokespersons also waxed enthusiastic about the artificial turf for the record, and that we haven't been able to locate a single sciences faculty member who spoke up against this injurious at best, lethal at worst, artificial turf installation. And we're supposed to believe that Whittier College cares?!

Likewise, no Whittier College trustee, administrator, or faculty member, to our knowledge, has spoken out toward stopping the renewal of oil exploitation adjacent to campus, clearly a health hazard to everyone on campus and in the larger community. Sharon Herzberger has consistently failed to act when informed and acted when uninformed, and every time there have been consequences for students and the entire community.

In relation to President Herzberger's further tarnishing of Whittier College's tattered reputation, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has already pointed out that Amethyst Initiative signers are "misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem." Further, MADD officials "are urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on" to the Amethyst Initiative.

Harvard School of Public Health's Henry Wechsler says, "I wish these college presidents sat around and tried to work out ways to deal with the problem on their campus, rather than try to eliminate the problem by defining it out of existence."

In addition to 500,000 college student injuries, 1,700 of them resulting in death, due to alcohol each year, since 2000 hundreds of college students have literally drunk themselves to death. The collateral damage in terms of grief, harm to health, assaults and sexual assaults, and property damage is practically incalculable. University of Miami President, and former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala refused to sign the Amethyst Initiative petition, saying "I remember college campuses when we had 18-year old drinking, and I...believe we've made some progress. To just shift it back down to the high schools makes no sense."

A recent University of Southern California study confirms University of Miami President Shalala's observations, finding that less than half of USC's incoming first-year students drank alcohol, but that by Thanksgiving 80% of this same incoming class were drinking. USC, unlike Whittier College trying only to avoid liability and to hell with students and community, has responded by retraining USC staff so that they can more effectively build upon high school drinking education efforts.

When 40% of college undergrads report at least one alcohol abuse or dependence symptom, effective education about drinking is just what's necessary. Meanwhile, non-college youth drink less than their collegiate counterparts. The college campus environment is playing an extremely important part in creating and sustaining the problem of disproportionate drinking by college students. USC gets it and is trying to help students. Whittier College doesn't want to get it, is clearly determined to continue imperiling student and community healthy and safety.

For the Amethyst Initiative signatory presidents to claim that they're doing all they can do about underage drinking is just plain BS. The fact is that those responsible for the contemporary college milieu, especially small (and even more so out in the boondocks) colleges (like Whittier College), where administrators say they can't educate or bust students and stay in business, and huge campuses where administrators say they can't control anything, regard their dorm residents much as the federal government has treated with Native Americans: what happens on the rez stays on the reservation (until something, inevitably given these policies, goes tragically wrong).

If Whittier College can't control the flow of alcohol and drugs into its residence halls, and Society and athletic houses, which the College has misled student families to believe will be safe, then the entire administration and Campus Safety staff should resign, immediately. Only administrators and campus cops who don't want to keep alcohol and drugs off their campuses can't do so. There is not a single Whittier College student, and, let's face it, if you can pay you can go to Whittier College, so we mean literally anyone who couldn't devise a reasonably effective policy and practice to keep alcohol and drugs off campus just doesn't want to do so.

Whittier College can't control alcohol and drug use on campus because the administration and Campus Safety are too busy telling students that breaking alcohol and drug laws is okay, warrant nothing more than a slap on the wrist, if that, and in Whittier College's case, not only alcohol and drug use, but also providing alcohol to minors and selling drugs. The mistaken belief that they can do whatever the hell they feel like doing, held by too many Whittier College students, begins with the College turning a blind eye to underage drinking and drug use on campus and in off-campus Society and athletic houses, and progressively breaks down any senses of morality, ethics, and law once held by incoming first-year students. This is not a higher education; this is a lower education.

The loss of touch with reality evidenced by the Amethyst Initiative presidents is spotlighted by the results of a recent Nationwide Insurance survey, which reveals that 78% of those scientifically polled support upholding 21 as the minimum drinking age, and that more than half are less likely to vote for a representative advocating lowering the drinking age, and less likely to send their children to a college with a 'party school' reputation. A brilliant recruiting tactic by President Herzberger, associating Whittier College with the Amethyst Initiative.

The Amethyst Initiative petition has been signed mostly by presidents of small private colleges. You know, schools that cost a lot and are easy to get into, that have a disproportionate number of underachievers, who are passed in their courses and given degrees as though they'd earned them (evidently by partying), and some overachieving but completely naive minority kids who self-destructively imitate their supposed betters. You know, the so-called graduates who go on to screw not only themselves but all of us with their incompetence and corruption, showing what they really learned at Whittier College.

Only five California college presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, those of Whittier, Occidental, Pomona, and two Roman Catholic schools, Santa Clara and Dominican University of California. That's it. No Stanford, no U C Berkeley, no Caltech, no USC, no UCSD, not even UCSB, not even U C Santa Cruz; not one prestigious institution of higher learning, public or private.

The Amethyst Initiative is, however, supported by a motley crew of alleged institutions of higher learning, such as the patrician-sounding Marian Court College, which turns out to be a community college in Massachusetts. At least we can guess where Kapiolani Community College is located. Cedar Crest turns out to be a very small all-girls school. That could explain Cedar Crest's problems. Cedar Crest's counterpart, the Maine Maritime College, signed on. Lonely underaged would-be sailors drinking, now that's an intractable problem. Or Paul Smith's College? This one turns out to be some kind of eco-tourism school in the Adirondacks. The president of the New England Culinary Institute signed on. Guess those aspiring chefs are hitting the cooking sherry again. And let's not leave out Naropa University. Who knew young Buddhist monks and nuns have a drinking problem, and that ignoring it will help?

Extremely few what we would consider good schools have associated themselves with the Amethyst Initiative, and some of the original signers, like the presidents of Morehouse and Georgia Southwestern, were withdrawing their signatures as soon as some of the Initiative presidents started jumping in front of tv cameras to contradict science and one another. One Initiative president asserts that the drinking problem is off campus, while another says the problem's in dorm rooms on campus. One offers her wild untested hypothesis about a relationship between raising the drinking age and binge drinking, while completely ignoring the fact that all the science on these subjects supports, not lowering the drinking age, but rather keeping the age set at 21.

A leading authority on the relationship between drinking age and safety, Alexander C. Wagenaar, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida's Medical College, asks, "Why would you take the one thing that has been tried in the last 30 years that has been shown to be most successful and throw that out the window...?" Both U. S. and foreign studies concur in their findings that raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 has reduced drunk driving deaths and other alcohol-related problems. The Center for Disease Control agrees with these studies' results. Dr. Wagenaar points out that the Amethyst Initiative presidents "see a problem...and they don't want to deal with it. It's...unfortunate, but the science is very clear."

There is no study concluding that the drinking age should be lowered to 18, nor is there any study concluding that raising the drinking age to 21 has increased binge drinking by minors or any other group.

The fact case might have been clear to Sharon Herzberger, if she had but taken the little trouble to familiarize herself with the scientific findings she obviously only falsely claims to have been interested in for years (or even just ask a sciences prof on campus, show any semblance of due diligence) - before she was presented with yet another petition she couldn't resist signing, if it might spread her name around - like manure stinking up what's left of Whittier College's reputation. How long are the Trustees of Whittier College going to let Sharon go on making consequential mistake after mistake after mistake?

Every student deserves trustees, a school administration, faculty, and campus cops, who care about each and every student. At Whittier College, students are so far down the list of priorities that they're hard to see in the picture at all. Whittier College cares about Whittier College's liability, and then money, and that's really about all there is to Whittier College.

Contrary to Whittier College's low opinion and valuation of students, they're not so stupid that they can't learn that binge drinking is stupid and dangerous, that drinking isn't even necessary at all. One of the Amethyst Initiative presidents rambled on about role modeling responsible drinking. Why? If you're going to role model, get it right: abstain. And if you feel compelled to role model a crime, at least choose a victimless crime. Marijuana, for example, hasn't caused a half-million student injuries, nor 1,700 deaths, a year, nor have hundreds of students smoked themselves to death since 2000. Marijuana hasn't caused any problem at all beyond legal complications for users (unless they go to the Dub C where thas coo, foo), so, on the basis of science, health and safety, and common sense, it's clearly less crazy to call for marijuana decriminalization than it is to call for lowering the drinking age. Sharon es muy loco, no?

Sharon Herzberger, withdraw your signature from the Amethyst Initiative petition - before any further harm is done to Whittier College's reputation by that ill-considered decision; and get control of the dorms and Society and athletic houses, keep your and the College's promises to provide a safe, moral, ethical, law-abiding campus, at which a quality liberal arts education might be provided. Right now, thanks to you, campus and offcampus housing have become dangerous asylums in which student bullies - fueled by alcohol and drugs, and misguided by the very false idea that they can do whatever they want, no matter how wrong, without consequences for them thanks to their guardian bully angels at Campus Safety - run roughshod over good students and even faculty. Whatever Sharon Herzberger may claim, the simple truth is that Whittier College is less and less famous and more and more infamous.

How can there be a small liberal arts college, with a female president, at which all sexual assault/rape victims have "declined police involvement"?! How is lowering the drinking age to 18 - against the well-known scientific consensus on the subject - going to help protect students and the community? It seems that every single decision made by Sharon Herzberger and the Trustees of Whittier College is based on the bottom line, on liability. No president who puts students first can allow campus cops to victimize victims, a second time, and protect and even themselves be perpetrators.

No president who puts students first can honestly want an artificial turf installation on campus. No president who puts students first can honestly say okay to oil exploitation adjacent to campus. No president who puts students first can allow students to cheat and terrorize honest students and faculty members. No president who puts students first can exploit working poor Hispanic families and defraud government programs designed to help the working poor. Until Sharon Herzberger and the Trustees of Whittier College clean this mess up, and turn over a new leaf, betting on the opposite of that on which they bet will continue to make you a winner.

Amethyst Initiative BS:

MADD response to Amethyst Initiative BS and links to relevant news reports and scientific studies:

Los Angeles Times readers' reactions to Sharon Herzberger's pro-Amethyst Initiative article (28 August 08):

"President Herzberger would have us believe that we need discussion about the drinking age of 21. The evidence is not unclear, confusing, nor difficult to interpret. We have in effect the results of a national experiment, in which we had a higher drinking age and lowered it, saw the terrible consequences, raised it again, and saw the positive benefits. What needs to be discussed is why campuses have not been more proactive to counter the dangerous drinking culture. There are proven programs to reduce and prevent the harmful outcomes for students." - Robert Nash Parker

"As a member of the Religious Society of Friends I can...tell you that our faith...encourages its members to avoid using alcohol and other toxic substances. Check any edition of our "Faith and Practice" or check it out online." - Quaker Dave

"College Presidents who sign this document (the Amethyst Initiative) should be ex-college presidents." - Laura Cary

* * * A partial listing of Recent Alcohol-Related Student Deaths: (click on Tragic Results of Campus Drinking Culture to see student fatalities listing)

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