Support the ‘Prince’
Please disable ad blockers for our domain. Thank you!

Editorial: Reform the Referendum

Several weeks after its conclusion, Bicker remains the word on the street. Continued campus conversation about Bicker owes much to the recent “Hose Bicker” movement. While dialogue about Bicker reform is certainly worth having, the framing of the current referendum to end the Bicker system is problematic — and harmful — to productive conversation. Proponents of the “Hose Bicker” referendum shortsightedly narrow the conversation by setting the cart before the horse: they set the goal to eliminate Bicker and then propose the formation of a committee to work toward that specific end. The Board urges that the referendum be amended to remove its “end Bicker” formulation and instead simply propose the creation of an ad hoc committee to discuss all eating club member selection processes, not just Bicker.

Attempting to reform private independent institutions through the Undergraduate Student Government is necessarily a futile enterprise. Eating clubs are private institutions, entirely outside USG’s limited jurisdiction. The most a referendum could achieve, therefore, is to stimulate a vigorous campus discussion about Bicker. However, the current referendum undermines this outcome in two ways: first, any conclusions drawn from the referendum results will come from skewed sample populations and limited data points; second, the referendum’s measures preempt discussion and polarize relevant participants.

The results of the referendum are unlikely to reflect accurately the feelings of the entire University community due to the voluntary, non-random nature of the USG referenda voting. USG elections are often characterized by low voter turnout. For example, only40 percent of the student body voted on this year’s winter break referendum,andthis year’s presidential runoff election’s unusually high turnout featured just 3,116 votes. Elections plagued by low voter turnout often overrepresent extreme voices, thereby failing to represent moderate voices in the outcome. The practical reality of a limited participant pool is further complicated because different class years experience different facets of the eating club selection system, and USG voting participation is almost always uneven across class years. Going through with the USG referendum to end Bicker would place a rubber stamp on the view of a misrepresentative sample of the student body and skew the direction of the conversation. Proper discussion of the issue requires a framework that gathers the thoughts and opinions of all voices.

Not only will the circumstances of the polling produce false conclusions, but the framing of the proposal polarizes relevant participants. The current wording of the referendum ballot includes a “call [for] each bicker eating club to end bicker not later than the first day of the 2019-2020 academic year” and directs, “the USG Senate to ... establish an ad hoc committee to facilitate ending bicker.” This undermines campus discourse. The option presented is not, “What could we do about Bicker?” but rather, “Let’s eliminate this system.” This proposal casts its own final judgement and in so doing antagonizes those who support the Bicker process, including the officers of Bicker eating clubs. Many who participate and facilitate the Bicker system are put on the defensive, instead of welcomed to discuss the system’s merits. Eating club officers who best know the flaws of the system and can speak with more authority as to possible alternatives are almost inevitably estranged.

Instead of assuming that the only issue left is the method by which to eliminate Bicker (which is again, beyond USG jurisdiction), the referendum could welcome the insights and experiences of eating club officers to understand fully the problems with Bicker and other membership selection mechanisms. Membership selection is done differently by every eating club on the Street, and the specific mechanisms and consequences of each system vary. Welcoming knowledgeable officers to the discussion table would help the community explore the issue thoroughly. An ad hoc committee with a broader scope than “facilitating the end of Bicker” could also contribute to better understanding the merits and faults of every club’s member selection systems.

Bicker is a complex and contentious issue. All of us in the University community would do well to consider and discuss Bicker and potential reforms in a cooperative and fruitful manner. The current referendum falls short of this, and its authors and proponents would do well to modify their approach.

Mitchell Johnston ’15 recused himself from the writing of this editorial.



The majority opinion argues the referendum is faulty for two main reasons: the invalidity of the USG voting process and the referendum's language itself. Both of these arguments are unsound.

First, the majority argues that the polling process administered by USG fails to represent the entire student body. Yet the participant pool is “limited” not by a fault in this process (as the majority opines), but by the choices of students. Simply put, students, including upperclassmen in eating clubs, who want their voices heard can do so through the ballot box. Furthermore, why has the majority just now chosen to criticize the USG voting process? By its logic, the USG presidential election and the winter break referendum were unfairly decided. In addition, every class has an opinion on the Bicker system and will, at some point or another, be affected by Bicker. While underclassmen might not be in eating clubs now, 70 percent of them will be in two years. Thus as an aggregate, the referendum process is the best way to gauge student opinion across campus.

Moreover, the majority criticizes the referendum’s language as overly sweeping and misaligned with proper campus discourse. In reality, if this referendum passes, campus opinion on Bicker will be clear. Every year around Bicker season, this campus discusses the faults of Bicker, yet fails to properly poll the student body or enact real change. Voting on this referendum will provide an adequate indicator of student opinion. The majority rightly points out that the clubs are independent, and we agree that the ad hoc committee should include more Bicker club representation. However, the USG voting process currently provides the best way of properly polling student opinion, in the actual results of the vote, the discussion the referendum has sparked, and the conversation to follow.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

Ultimately, the majority opinion trivializes the current conversation around the harms of Bicker, especially considering the majority's silence on theplethora of alternatives to Bicker released by the “Hose Bicker” campaign this week.


Brandon Holt ’15, Lily Offit ’15, Aditya Trivedi ’16 and Andrew Tsukamoto ’15

TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The Board answers only to its chair, the opinion editor and the editor-in-chief.