Eating club task force calls for change to Bicker
The culmination of eight meetings and nearly seven months of research, the 23-page report issued by the task force stressed the importance of eating clubs in campus life while issuing a series of recommendations on the eating clubs’ member-selection process, alcohol policies, costs and diversity, among other areas.
At the meeting, which was open to the public, Durkee said the 18-member task force’s goal was to “gather data, collect ideas and stimulate informed conversation that will continue not only into the next few weeks, but into the next few years.”
The task force’s most high-profile recommendation is an alternative to Bicker in which sophomores, either individually or in groups, would rank their preferences among clubs, while clubs would have the option of submitting rankings of the students that they would most like to admit. Based on the preferences of both, a computer program would match students with clubs. The report said this system would allow current bicker clubs a path to reducing selectivity while offering prospective club members greater privacy in the selection process.
University Counsel Clayton Marsh ’85, a member of the task force and a former Cottage Club member, called the current Bicker system the eating clubs’ “Achilles heel.”
“The current practice under which student must first bicker, and then at only one club before they express or fully explore the sign-in clubs, creates a kind of all-or-nothing dynamic,” said Marsh, who bickered Cottage as part of the multi-club Bicker system used by the clubs when he was a student.
President Shirley Tilghman called the recommended changes to the Bicker system “the most surprising recommendation.” But, she said in an e-mail, “I very much hope that something like the ‘match’ they recommend will be instituted.”
Marsh added that the new system would “not compromise the bicker clubs at all in their ability to recruit and choose their members, but it would level the whole Bicker process in a way that would make it more inviting, more private, more dignified, and overall it would just improve the optics of this process.”
The task force also suggested that the clubs consider ways to reduce club admission advantages associated with fraternity and sorority membership, and that Greek organizations shift their rush process to sophomore year.
At the meeting, Durkee called attention to the “pipeline” that links certain Greek organizations and selective eating clubs.
“Many students join fraternities and sororities maybe not so much because they actually want to be in the fraternity or sorority — for some that probably is the case — but because they understand that these pipeline relationships have been created,” said Durkee, referring to the tie between certain Greek organizations and some bicker clubs.
Durkee added that the connection between fraternities and sororities and selective eating clubs also raised questions about the demographics of eating club membership, compared with those of the student body as a whole. The task force recommended that clubs increase efforts to introduce all freshmen and sophomores to the clubs and become more welcoming to students from all backgrounds.
“What was interesting to us about the demography of the clubs was that African-American students and international students are underrepresented in the clubs as a whole, although it varies a bit club by club,” Durkee said.
“Asians tend to represent a different profile in that they are quite underrepresented in the selective clubs but very over-represented in the sign-in clubs and the non-selective clubs,” Durkee noted. On the other hand, “Latino and Hispanic students are represented in the clubs in the same proportion that they are in the student body,” he said.
The report also recommended additional steps to control excessive alcohol consumption, focusing on the broader campus social scene. In addition to increasing the number of alcohol-free social events on campus, the task force proposed reintroducing a campus pub and reestablishing the role of Public Safety as the first responder for emergencies at the eating clubs.
It also recommended measures such as collective purchasing and waste removal to reduce club operating costs and increase club affordability.
“The next measure of our success is whether our report does, in fact, stimulate further conversation,” Durkee said, adding that he hopes readers will find the descriptions of shared meal plans and financial aid procedures “interesting and informative.”
But Tilghman said the report itself was a significant accomplishment. “This was the first serious examination of the relationship between the eating clubs and the University in anyone’s memory,” she said. “That alone is a major achievement.”
The task force, which was established last fall by Tilghman and former USG president Connor Diemand-Yauman ’10, was charged with issuing its findings and recommendations by the end of the spring semester. Along with Durkee and Diemand-Yauman, seven undergraduates, three faculty members, two alumni and four staff members served on the task force.
Task force members emphasized that the report was written independently of the University and the eating clubs.
“It’s not the University making a report. It’s obviously not the leadership of the clubs making a report. But it’s a task force that includes a diversity of people,” Durkee said.
“None of us came to the meeting with an agenda,” Diemand-Yauman said in an e-mail. “Just a common interest in strengthening the relationship between the clubs and the University and enriching the undergraduate experience as a result.”
Tilghman said that the task force took a “fair and balanced approach to the clubs, representing their strengths and identifying their weaknesses.”
“This is not the administration making these recommendations,” noted English professor Jeff Nunokawa, master of Rockefeller College and a member of the task force. “The task force had a very specific task and it fulfilled it by producing the report ... Many of these recommendations will stand or fall according to the decisions of the eating clubs.”
Durkee said during the CPUC meeting that he and Tilghman would both attend this week’s Graduate Interclub Council meeting, and that a few task force members would also attend an Interclub Council meeting on Sunday to “get into a little more detail about some of the recommendations.”
He explained that the task force is looking to “get initial responses, and then give people a chance to think about it and come back to us and decide, ‘Are there some things that make sense, and if so, how do we go about pursuing it?’ ”
Members of the task force said they were happy with the final report and their experience over the past several months.
“I could not be more pleased with the final report or the work of the task force over the last year,” Diemand-Yauman said. “Throughout the process, the task force worked to ensure that everyone who wanted to have his or her voice heard was given the opportunity to do so.”
Durkee noted that the task force succeeded in soliciting input from a broad spectrum of the University community, including current students and alumni. At the time of the meeting, the task force had received comments from more than 650 people on its website.
Dinesh Maneyapanda ’94, who served on the task force and is chair of the GICC and president of the graduate board of Quadrangle Club, said he hoped he “brought a spectrum of viewpoints which were helpful to the task force as a whole in understanding the perspective of one part of the Princeton community.”
“I couldn’t be happier with the caliber of the task force and its members,” Maneyapanda added.
While Durkee said that the task force hopes its recommendations will be adopted, “even more we hope that they will encourage continuing conversation about how best to address the concerns that we were encouraged to focus on.”
—Staff writer Molly Brean contributed reporting.