May 21st, 2022


After Yale, Mizzou, raise the voting age --- to 25

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published Nov. 13, 2015

Students celebrate the resignation of University of Missouri System president amid claims of racism

In 1971, the United States ratified the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

The idea, in those Vietnam War years, was that 18-year-olds, being old enough to be drafted, to marry and to serve on juries, deserved a vote. It seemed plausible at the ti me, and I myself have argued that we should set the drinking age at 18 for the same reasons.

But now I'm starting to reconsider. To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It's necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I'm doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.

But now the evidence suggests that, whatever one might say about the 18-year-olds of 1971, the 18-year-olds of today aren't up to that task. And even the 21-year-olds aren't looking so good.

Consider Yale University, where a disagreement over what to do about — theoretically — offensive Halloween costumes devolved into a screaming fit by a Yale senior (old enough to vote, thanks to the 26th Amendment) who assaulted a professor with a profane tirade because the professor's failure to agree with her made her feel ... unsafe.

As The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf writes: "Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience, and composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement. For her trouble, a faction of students are now trying to get (her and her husband, also a professor there) removed from their residential positions, which is to say, censured and ousted from their home on campus. Hundreds of Yale students are attacking them, some with hateful insults, shouted epithets, and a campaign of public shaming. In doing so, they have shown an illiberal streak that flows from flaws in their well-intentioned ideology."

This isn't the behavior of people who are capable of weighing opposing ideas, or of changing their minds when they are confronted with evidence that suggests that they are wrong. It's the behavior of spoiled children — a characterization that Friedersdorf, perhaps unconsciously, underscores by not reporting the students' names because, he implies, they are too young to be responsible for their actions. And spoiled children shouldn't vote.

And this is at Yale, where — alarmingly — the students are supposed to represent America's leaders of tomorrow. But the problem isn't just at Yale, as the University of Missouri recently saw student protests oust a president for ... well, it's not entirely clear what he did, but it had something to do with not being sensitive enough to students' feelings. Nor, sadly, are such events unique; campus craziness has become a standard story line, with new examples appearing almost daily.

As Reason's Robby Soave notes, student demands for "safe spaces" boil down to a demand that universities fulfill the role of Mommy and Daddy. In the old days — this practice, interestingly, ended about 1971, too — colleges stood in loco parentis (in the place of parents) and, as Soave writes, exercised extensive and detailed control over students' social lives, sleeping hours, organizing and speaking. Now, he observes, the students are "desperate to be treated like children again."

Well, OK, I guess. But children don't vote. Those too fragile to handle different opinions are too fragile to participate in politics. So maybe we should raise the voting age to 25, an age at which, one fervently hopes, some degree of maturity will have set in. It's bad enough to have to treat college students like children. But it's intolerable to be governed by spoiled children. People who can't discuss Halloween costumes rationally don't deserve to play a role in running a great nation.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.