Task force: More financial support, campus pub should be considered

After seven months of study, a task force concluded that the University and its students are “well served” by the eating clubs, but proposed a new method for selecting members that is modeled after the medical-school match program.  

In a 23-page report released May 3, the task force said it was encouraged by actions taken by both the clubs and the University in recent years.  

But the report also cited “a dark side” of the eating clubs that includes a ­“culture of alcohol that seems to characterize much of club life,” feeder relation­ships between fraternities and sororities and some selective clubs, and reduced club participation by lower-income and minority students.

The 18-member task force of students, alumni, faculty, and staff was created to explore ways to strengthen the relationships between the clubs and the University and to improve the experience of students in the clubs. Soliciting comments on its Web site, the task force heard from about 400 students and more than 200 alumni.  

The current bicker process — with sophomores applying to a single selective club — was described as harmful and cruel. More than a third of bicker candidates this spring did not get into into their first-choice club, and the public nature of being “hosed” can leave lasting emotional scars, the report said.

To address the concerns, the report suggested a selection process similar to that used to place medical students in residency programs. Sophomores interested in joining a club — selective or open — would submit a ranked list of preferences; each club that wished to do so would submit a ranked list of sophomores it wished to admit. A computer program then would make matches based on the preferences: Each student would be assigned to his or her highest-ranking available choice. The process would be confidential, and both sign-in and bicker applicants would be placed as part of a single process.  

The task force said that its proposal “evokes a central feature of multi-club bicker,” a process in effect until the 1980s in which students could apply to more than one club and would be guaranteed a bid from at least one.  

President Tilghman endorsed the proposal, telling the Prince: “I very much hope that something like the ‘match’ they recommend will be instituted.” Initial student reaction was more negative, however.  

Martin Scheeler ’11, president of Tower Club and the chairman of the Interclub Council, told The Daily Princetonian that the task force’s proposal was “extremely misguided and unrealistic.” A Princetonian editorial described the plan as “a return to multi-club bicker” and urged that it not be adopted, saying that it would reinforce some of the problems it was designed to remedy.  

Robert Durkee ’69, vice president and secretary of the University, who served as chairman of the task force, responded in a letter to the Prince that despite fears to the contrary, the bicker interview process would be little changed, and that the students who are admitted to selective clubs now would likely be selected under the new process.  

Following the release of the report, Durkee and Tilghman met with the Graduate Interclub Council (GICC) and Durkee met with the undergraduate Interclub Council. He said the task force wants to hear reactions to the report, and that he and other members would work with club officers and grad board members during the summer to refine the alternative selection proposal “so the conversation in the fall can focus on exactly how such a process might work.”

GICC president Dinesh Maneyapanda ’94, president of Quadrangle Club’s graduate board and a member of the task force, said relations between the clubs and the University have “dramatically improved” in the past five years. Noting that grad boards will be responsible for the fate of many of the report’s recommendations, he said he is “hopeful that all 10 clubs are willing to be open to the possibility of change.”  

Among the report’s other findings:

• Because it is important to sustain both a critical mass of clubs and a significant number of spaces available on a sign-in basis, the report said that the University may need to help “secure the financial underpinnings of the clubs (especially the sign-in clubs)” at some point. Durkee said that no clubs are seeking financial assistance at present.

• While the clubs have adopted a series of “best practices” in recent years aimed at responsible consumption of alcohol, the report said that drinking has become more pervasive, with more party nights than most alumni would recall from their experience and beer on tap most if not all nights of the week. The task force urged the clubs to be part of a larger campus strategy aimed at reducing excessive drinking, and suggested the reintroduction of a campus pub. (The campus pub was closed after New Jersey’s drinking age was raised to 21 in 1983.)

• The University in recent years has included the average cost of club meal contracts in calculating financial aid for juniors and seniors (this year the amount is $6,960), but some students don’t join or stay in clubs for financial reasons, the report said. The task force suggested that financial aid be expanded to cover social fees and sophomore charges, and asked if more scholarship funds could be available through the clubs. In addition, the group urged the clubs to work together to reduce costs in areas like purchasing and waste removal.  

Class of 2000: ... More than any other place, [my eating club] is my “home” at Princeton.

Class of 2012: I think the class divide in the eating clubs is one of the biggest problems.

Class of 1973: I think bicker as it is now is horrible — so hurtful and unnecessarily so.

Class of 1977: In my experience talking to high school students, the eating clubs are a real ­deterrent ...

Class of 1957: Princeton has in its eating-club “system” the best of any college or university because it provides for small social settings and gives undergraduates the ability to govern themselves.

Source: Eating Club Task Force report

PAW would like to hear your reaction to the task force recommendations. E-mail paw@princeton.edu or write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542. A selection of responses will be printed in future issues and at PAW Online.