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Nov.3, 2010

Vol. 111, No. 3


No club hopeful left behind?

Published in the November3, 2010, issue

We’d like your reaction to the alternative selection process outlined by the Eating Club Task Force: Leave a comment below this story; e-mail PAW at or write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton NJ 08542.

Details have emerged about a selection plan for the eating clubs that could be an alternative to the current bicker process.

Robert K. Durkee ’69, the University’s vice president and secretary and the chairman of a task force that studied the University’s relationship with the eating clubs, released a proposal for a 14-step process Oct. 4 as part of an update of the group’s recommendations.

The club-selection plan, developed by a group of graduate board members, undergraduate club officers, and Office of Information Technology staff members, is modeled after the computerized match program used to place medical students in residency programs.

The task force said it hopes that the clubs will “adopt this proposal or a modified version of it for this year, at least on a pilot basis.”

An alternative to bicker

From the Eating Club Task Force progress report (Oct. 4, 2010):

(Among the recommendations to the clubs): Adopt an alternative selection process, with technical support from the Office of Information Technology if desired.

Over the summer a working group composed of graduate board members and undergraduate club officers participated in the development of a detailed step-by-step description of how the process proposed by the task force would work. (The description is attached to this report [below] as Appendix A .) The working group was assisted by OIT, which developed process maps to illustrate the multiple steps in the proposed process. The process seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • Ensure a placement in a club for every sophomore who wishes to be in a club.
  • Notify each sophomore of his or her placement at the same time. This avoids the current situation in selective clubs where unsuccessful bickerees go through a period of being unplaced ("hosed"), and it avoids the current situation in open clubs where some students join in a first round and others join in a second round.
  • Allow selective clubs to continue to practice bicker (i.e., determine which students they wish to admit) in whatever way they believe works best for them.
  • Allow open clubs to continue to admit members on a "sign-in" basis.
  • Increase membership in open clubs by encouraging more students who bicker unsuccessfully at a selective club to accept placement in an open club, with that placement coming as part of a single process.
  • Provide sophomores with greater privacy in the selection process, since no one except the student knows how he or she ranked his/her choices and everyone is placed at one time.

The task force proposal and the detailed process for implementing it are being discussed with the undergraduate officers and graduate boards of each of the 10 clubs this fall. It remains the hope of the task force that the clubs will be willing to adopt this proposal or a modified version of it for this year, at least on a pilot basis, as a way of addressing concerns about the club selection process that have been expressed by many students and alumni, while continuing to respect the key elements of the selection processes currently followed by both the selective and the open clubs.

Appendix A: A Possible Alternative Selection Process

  1. Each selective club determines its targeted section size, and each open club determines its maximum section size.
  2. Each selective club operates a bicker process of its own choosing to determine which students it wishes to invite to join the club.
  3. At the end of the bicker process, on a predetermined day, each selective club submits one or two lists of students to the computer. The first list is unranked and is the size of its targeted section. The second (optional) list is a ranked alternate list.
  4. Each sophomore interested in joining a club submits a ranked list of clubs indicating the student's order of preference. Each student's list must include any selective club or clubs at which the student is bickering and all five open clubs. Each student includes an e-mail address to guard against mixing up students who may have the same name.
  5. For each selective club, the computer compares the club's unranked first list with students who ranked that club as their first choice. When a match is made, the student is placed in the club. The match only occurs when a name is on the club's list and the student ranked the club first.
  6. If every student on the club's list ranked the club as his or her first choice, that club's section is filled. If some names don't match (i.e., a student on the club's list did not rank that club first), then the club has two choices:

    • It can instruct the computer to place no additional students, accepting a section size lower than its target that is filled entirely with students on its initial list who ranked the club their first choice; or
    • It can instruct the computer to accept students from its ranked alternate list who ranked the club first until the section is full or all names have been exhausted. If the club reaches this latter point, it again has two choices:

      1. It can instruct the computer to place no additional students and accept a section size lower than its target that is filled entirely with students it wanted to admit who ranked the club first; or
      2. It can instruct the computer in a later round to return first to its initial list and then, if necessary, to its ranked alternate list admitting students who ranked the club lower than first and who have not been placed in their first choice club, giving preference to the highest rankings among those students until section size is reached.
  7. It is important to emphasize that no student would be placed at a selective club who had not been on the club's list and that selective clubs do not have to rank their initial lists; they only need to rank their alternate lists if they choose to submit them. If they wish, they can instruct the computer to take demographic factors into account in identifying matches from the alternate list (if, for example, they wish to maintain the gender balance of their initial list).
  8. After all matches have been made between the selective clubs' lists and the students who ranked the club first, the computer then places all students whose highest preference was an open club into their first choice club. If this number exceeds the maximum size for any given open club, random selection would be used to reduce this number to the maximum and any students not placed in their first-choice open club would move into the next round when any students not yet placed are distributed by their second preferences to clubs with available spaces.
  9. The second-preference round essentially repeats the process of the first-preference round. If a selective club has elected to participate in this round (see 6.b.ii), a match is made if a student who designated the club as his or her second choice is on the club's list(s). Students who designated an open club as their second choice are placed in that club unless the club is oversubscribed, in which case the computer makes random selections among students who ranked the club second and any student thus not placed moves into the round when distribution to remaining spaces is determined by third preferences. The process continues until all students are placed.
  10. At this point the computer has ten lists of students, one for each club, with the following characteristics:

    • All students placed at selective clubs were on their club's list;
    • Students at open clubs have been placed with first preference given to first choices, followed by second choices, etc.
    • Every student who submitted a ranked list that at a minimum included all five open clubs has been placed.
  11. These provisional lists are then sent confidentially to the officers of each of the ten clubs so they can check for any discrepancies or errors. For example, selective clubs can check to be sure that every name on their placement list was on their acceptance list.
  12. After the lists have been checked, students can be notified about their placement. This notification can come from the administering agency or from the club at which a student has been placed. If the latter, then agreement should be reached on a uniform time of notification. A best practice may be to have the initial notification by the administering agency, followed quickly by a communication from the club.
  13. After students have been notified of their placements, there should be a procedure by which students can indicate whether they accept their placement and intend to join the club at which they have been placed. This acceptance could go to the administering agency, the pertinent club, or both via a response form that accompanies the notification.
  14. It probably makes sense for the clubs to agree upon a policy regarding appeals. The process probably works best if appeals are not accepted except in the case of real error (a name was coded incorrectly, for example). This process does not preclude a fall bicker in which students could seek admission to a selective club that had spaces available, nor does it prohibit individual requests from students to move from one club to another.

Note: The full progress report of the Eating Club Task Force can be found at

Post Comments
10 Responses to No club hopeful left behind?

John D. Daniels '61 Says:

2010-10-29 12:17:13

I don't think the selection process makes a bit of difference as long as there is a reasonable alternative facility for those who do not wish to play the game. In my day, it was Wilson Lodge.

Darby Bannard '56 Says:

2010-10-29 13:00:22

I agree with Daniels above, but if any system like this goes into effect and has legal or quasi-legal status, I would advise every selective club to hire a lawyer to advise and oversee the process.

Richard Cummings '59 Says:

2010-10-29 13:02:53

I would make only the following changes: If a student is "hosed" by the selective clubs, he or she should still be eligible to join a non-selective club. At the end of this process, and there are students without the ability to join a club, then ALL the clubs must decide amongst themselves which will take the unaffiliated students until everyone has a bid. The selective clubs must participate in this process and be obliged to offer a bid. But all of this should be done privately to avoid embarrassing the students still wanting to join a club. For those who want to join a club but cannot afford to, there should be scholarships provided by the university. Everything possible should be done to get rid of the class system that surrounds the clubs. One way to avoid this is to arrange for clubs to have nights during which they invite non-club members for meals, switching so to speak. Also, there must be a rule that no club may deny admission to a student because of race, religion, gender, sexual preference, high school, or wealth. I would impose an affirmative action program for the selective clubs to break down barriers.

Rachel Linton '03 Says:

2010-10-29 13:06:50

Yeah, they totally forgot about co-ops, which I assume still exist and which have a limited number of spaces due to kitchen size, etc. Someone might have a first choice of a co-op and a second choice of an eating club. Or someone might have a first choice of Spelman and a second choice of a co-op and a third choice of an eating club. I think co-ops and Spelman must be included. Don't forget -- just because they are awesome doesn't mean they don't have limited space as well. Also, I don't see included here groups -- some people want to make joint decisions and all go to the same place as their best friends. For example: If A and B both bicker the fictional "Geranium" club and B gets in and A doesn't, but B wants to club with A, then both of them might want to join Colonial instead.

Geoff Young '72/Tiger Says:

2010-10-29 15:02:25

If the selective club's first list contains the club's first choices, I do not see why the options in par. 6 do not include going to a second round (par. 9) to pick up those on its first list who listed the club as their second choice but were not selected by their first choice. In other words, I would think that a selective club would want to fill its section from its first list, regardless whether the club was the bickeree's second, or third choice, before going to the alternate list.

Herman Belz '59 Says:

2010-11-01 12:05:38

Hard to believe that the University administration would make such a prodigious and hare-brained effort to eliminate freedom of association, which is to say social distinctions, in campus life. The administration should let well enough alone and let students sort out their own social life.

David Paton '52 Says:

2010-11-01 17:45:04

Sounds like an outstanding plan and much overdue.

Ryan Irwin '10 Says:

2010-12-13 09:25:04

As Rachel Linton mentioned, this plan is missing the "group" component. I know many students who most importantly wanted to end up in a club with a close set of friends. The plan could surely be modified to include groups, but it would introduce complicating factors which should be thought through.

Sean Edwards '92 Says:

2010-12-13 09:40:05

I think it makes sense. Seems to protect the bicker clubs' ability to select their own members and provide a means to help protect against hurt feelings.

Scott Daubin '05 Says:

2010-12-15 09:44:03

I think the process described above is a laudable effort to reform the bicker process in a positive way. Though skeptical at first, after reading the process I feel confident a similar system should be implemented. I agree with the points above that (1) groups might be considered in some way and (2) Spelman & co-ops should probably be added as well. Those changes would be nice-to-have, but should not stand in the way of the overall roll-out, which will improve campus culture surrounding eating clubs.
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