Referendum's success comes as a surprise
In the wake of yesterday's passage of the Student Bill of Rights, both liberals and conservatives students on campus have been left scratching their heads, asking themselves a simple question: How did this happen?
Few observers — including those who proposed the bill — expected the undergraduate body to approve the measure in this weekend's referendum after opposition groups launched a campaign to sink it. Indeed, the bill passed with a slim majority, with 51.8 percent of students voting in favor.
"We thought [the vocal opposition] was going to be the kiss of death for it," said College Republicans president Alexander Maugeri '07, who is also an associate editor for The Daily Princetonian.
The bill, known commonly as the SBOR, was crafted by the College Republicans, and is loosely based on conservative author David Horowitz's academic and student bills of rights, to promote "academic freedom and intellectual diversity within the University community." The SBOR outlines principles for removing ideology from student grading, classroom discussions, professor hiring and the selection of campus speakers.
The effort, while marketed as a nonpartisan endeavor, immediately took on a partisan flavor when the College Republicans lined up in support of the bill and the College Democrats in opposition of it.
College Democrats president Julia Brower '08 sent an email to her membership — numbering about 1,000 — encouraging students to vote no on the referendum. "I wanted to send you an email now that voting has begun reminding you that the College Democrats do not support the College Republicans' 'Student Bill of Rights' and we are urging our membership to vote 'no,' " the email read.
Maugeri also emailed his membership, which numbers a smaller 300, but sought other means to win student support. The group postered campus, dropped 2,000 flyers under students' doors and asked for signatures at tables set up in Frist Campus Center and dining halls. The flyers showed the text of the bill on one side, with the reverse side addressing anticipated student concerns.
"We worked incredibly hard," Maugeri said. "We really wanted it to pass."
Set back by accusations of partisanship, officers implored students to read the text of the bill, which makes no specific reference to a particular political ideology. "The challenge we posed was, 'Can you find anything in this document to which you disagree?' " College Republican membership chair Nicholas Cox '08 said. "A lot of the arguments came down to the fact that [the referendum was from] the College Republicans."
A poll conducted by the 'Prince' in October 2004, one month before the last presidential election, indicated that 42 percent of students on campus identify as Democrats, 19 percent as Republicans and 38 percent as independent.
Ultimately, however, the Republicans believe their efforts won over even skeptical students. "I think we definitely did get a lot of liberal votes," College Republicans vice president Clarke Smith '07, who is also a 'Prince' executive editor, said. "Obviously people not associated with College Republicans voted for it. That proves that this really was a bill that was bipartisan."
Opponents of the bill, however, continue to stand by their opinion that the bill is partisan and that it should not have been passed.
"I'm surprised [the vote] was as close as it was," said Asheesh Siddique '07, the leader of Free Exchange at Princeton, which led a campaign against the SBOR. "The Republicans did a good job misleading people."
Siddique plans on filing a complaint with the USG regarding an introductory economics course, because it ignores "Marxist economic viewpoints, privileging capitalist ones exclusively."
The College Republicans' proposal was not the first time in recent years that students have sought to address the issue of perceived partisan bias in the classroom. Evan Baehr '05, a former president of the Republicans and publisher of The Princeton Tory, began a club to promote the same message as the SBOR.
Instead of advocating a student referendum on the issue, however, Baehr and others in the club, Students for Academic Freedom, spoke one-on-one with both professors and students. Asked why he avoided seeking a referendum, Baehr said, "I wanted to make a point to distance ourselves from that type of effort," referring to Horowitz's bills.
But Maugeri defended the Republicans' decision to seek a referendum. "Our intentions were similar, but our tactics, we don't agree with Horowitz's tactics at all," he said.
USG president Alex Lenahan '07 will now sign the SBOR, "making it the official statement of the Princeton University student body," USG vice president Rob Biederman '08 said.
In the last USG meeting, members discussed the possibility of changing the requirements for getting a referendum on the elections ballot, with some members arguing that frivolous questions could be added.
"The tolerance threshold should be higher than 200 [signatures]," Biederman said, adding that he plans to bring up the issue again in the Senate. "You can get 200 people to sign anything."
Related— 'Student Bill of Rights' passes with 51.8 percent (April 24, 2006) — Republicans push student 'bill of rights' (April 6, 2006) — Full text of proposed bill
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