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Bicker

Calls for the task force to focus attention on bicker came from many students and alumni, including students and alumni with affiliations at the bicker clubs. Many expressed concern about the impact of bicker on those who are unsuccessful (in Princeton jargon, are “hosed”).
A significant number of alumni noted the extent to which a negative bicker experience detracted from their overall Princeton experience and left scars that lasted a lifetime, including one alumnus who wrote: “The process of bicker was one of the worst experiences of my life. I am in my seventies and that is quite a statement, isn’t it?” It was pointed out that the likelihood of being rejected is much greater now when students bicker at only one club and face the prospect of a simple up-or-down vote than it was in the multi-club processes of earlier times when bickerees were guaranteed admission to at least one club.

Some who had experiences as juniors and seniors making decisions about which sophomores to admit to their clubs wrote to express distress about the procedures and criteria that were applied in making these decisions. Others expressed concern about the development of feeder relationships between certain clubs and fraternities/sororities, athletic teams and student organizations which skew the bicker process by reducing the number of spaces available to students without affiliations. Others expressed distress about the extent to which bicker and the club initiation process can lead to inappropriate sexual interactions or peer pressure to drink excessively or engage in other dangerous or demeaning behavior. Still others expressed concern about what one member of the task force described as the “conspicuous cruelty” of some of the procedures that have been followed in recent years to notify bickerees whether or not they have been successful.

The comments summarized in the preceding paragraphs focus primarily on the ways in which bicker operates, without necessarily challenging the concept of selectivity. There were other, but fewer, comments that expressed concern about the basic concept, and specifically about the extent to which selectivity contributes to a climate of exclusiveness, social hierarchy and entitlement that conflicts with Princeton’s overall commitment to inclusiveness and fair access to all aspects of the Princeton experience. As a task force we respect the right of private organizations to establish their own membership procedures (as long as they comply with the law) and to make their own decisions about which of their applicants will best contribute to the sense of community they wish to create. We recognize that the purpose of such selectivity can be to create strong communities, and we hope that the members of selective clubs, in creating their communities, will reach out to students from a broad range of backgrounds and interests, will take full advantage of the remarkable diversity that characterizes the Princeton student body, and will be sensitive to the impact of their decisions on applicants who are not selected. At the same time, we believe it is essential that the overall club system continue to include non-selective alternatives for students who do not wish to participate in a bicker process and who wish to create communities on a sign-in basis.

In the senior survey for the Class of 2009, students were asked about the contribution of bicker to their Princeton experience. Interestingly, the percentage of students in the selective clubs who said it was negative (12%) was roughly equal to the result for students overall (15%). Some alumni said that while bicker may have positive attributes for some students, they were concerned that its net overall impact on Princeton was negative.

The task force focused its attention on whether an alternative selection process could be developed that would permit clubs to retain aspects of selectivity if they so wished, while also addressing some of the negative aspects of the bicker process as it has evolved in recent years. We believe this is possible and would like to propose the following alternative method that is roughly modeled on the process used to place students in medical schools (“medical match”).