After reading the full task force report on eating clubs, I arrived at a few conclusions with comments.
One of the draws and among several reasons I applied to Princeton was there were no fraternities, which I thought were “sophomoric” and undemocratic organizations that thrived at “lesser” universities. Though the eating clubs were Princeton’s answer to where upperclassmen ate and socialized, and we had either 100 percent or close to it class participation in one of the 17 clubs in the early ’50s, there still remained a divide and social stratification expressed that didn’t sit well. Still, it was more democratic and less divisive than today. I was a member of Colonial Club, to which I still contribute. The initiation was receiving a club tie – and that will be $5, please. There was drinking in the clubs, usually confined to football and select party weekends, but with the exception of a few of us, I never was aware of steady rampant alcohol consumption. We were too busy studying and participating in athletics and extracurricular activities. We were there to absorb a first-rate education, which didn’t allow for alcohol bingeing, which was thought of as unbecoming and in poor taste. (But – sin of sins – many smoked.) And the University was not a broadly diverse student body in the early ’50s, with about an equal divide between private and public school students and three black students in my class. All we knew was war, and that had a sobering maturing effect.
Fast forward to today: a much more widely diverse coeducational undergraduate body that one would think would lend itself to a more democratic and level playing field. But I am surprised that this is not so. Instead there is more social fracturing and division, with unseemly consequences for some students. This is not the Princeton I admired. The University at long last should take full control and dictate the terms of club membership. No more bicker allowed. All clubs must be nonselective. All fraternities and sororities should be dissolved and banned on campus now. That they were allowed to spring up at all shows how the camel gets his nose under the tent. The University runs the show, not the club trustees and alumni. The University trustees should take a stand loud and clear. And any trustees who belonged to selective clubs should announce that bicker will be dissolved. Does the University fear that some alumni will revolt and it will affect Annual Giving and the Aspire capital campaigns? I think not. If so, then are “the inmates running the asylum”?
The task force recommendations appear tepid and half-hearted and wrapped in the soft-talk nuances of corporate-speak “best practices.” Now is the time for real, decisive change to remove the trappings of social exclusivity akin to the Edwardian 19th century and the roaring ’20s in a university that reaches out to admit students from all economic and social spheres. There is no social or economic discrimination in admissions, and that must be observed in all aspects of campus social life. To foster alternative social settings to the clubs merely sidesteps the root problem.
When interviewing applicants to Princeton as a member of the Alumni Schools Committee, perhaps I should indicate Princeton has two admission processes: one to enter Princeton, the other to belong to a club. Many applicants have little knowledge of that social construct. Those who do are offspring or friends of alumni/alumnae or wired in through their country-club sources. Those 40 percent of admits whose parents can foot the whole bill are among those who seem to be accentuating and fostering a social-class divide on campus that keeps Princeton in the limelight of a country-club institution for those few well-heeled. The roaring ’20s are alive and well at a big slice of Princeton.
Time to grow up, Princeton, and enter the 21st century. Focus on academics, and make the residential colleges and campus center the key place for social life. Otherwise the Princeton “family” is not all-inclusive, not quite as big a tent as broadcast. Now that is what the “elite” Princeton should Aspire toward. Presidents Woodrow Wilson 1879 and William Bowen *58 would, I think, agree. And so would my granddaughters.