When the presidents of some of Americaís leading universities suggest that the legal drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18, the proposal canít simply be dismissed as the rant of an irate college student arguing that if heís old enough to die for his country, heís old enough to buy a beer.

These are serious scholars at respected institutions whose profession requires them to analyze data, apply logic and reach reasoned conclusions. The university presidentsí suggestion comes despite an epidemic of binge drinking that is damaging the physical and academic health of too many young people. But their argument is that the illegality of their drinking forces students under age 21 to hide their consumption, to push it into secrecy, and itís a situation they believe actually heightens the risk. The higher drinking age, they contend, hinders a college administrationís ability to confront such problems openly and provide guidance on how to make responsible choices.

Even so, perhaps others have additional data which should to be factored into the debate.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has responded quickly, pointing out that peer-reviewed studies have repeatedly shown that raising the drinking age has cut alcohol-related fatalities among young people. Adults who were college students at state campuses during the years when the legal drinking age was 18 will remember the rampant binge drinking that occurred. That evidence argues that this would return if the drinking age is lowered.

But the issue is complicated. Setting any age limit is a balancing act. It might help if more parents reared their children to use alcohol responsibly, if they use it at all. It might help if more parents actually practiced that concept and taught by example. If that happened more consistently, this might not be up for discussion. But since it is, the debate can only further expose the problems of alcohol abuse in our society, especially among the youngest users.

Brownwood Bulletin