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December 18, 2002:

On the Campus, March 13, 1953, by John Angus McPhee '53

The 1953 Bicker, which ended last week, was characterized by one significant problem. 100%-bids-to-eligibles was achieved for the fourth consecutive year, but the manner in which it was accomplished was subjected to wide, responsible criticism. Last week the Interclub Committee passed a resolution: "The Interclub Committee is in favor of 100% by natural selection. The committee condemns the artificial means (other than by the will of the clubs) now used in achieving 100%. Admission to the University does not constitute a guarantee of subsequent admission to a club. In the future, we strongly recommend that the University provide social facilities for those upperclassmen not in clubs." Only one club, Prospect, dissented.

The consensus of undergraduate sentiment seemed to be that the two aims of the Bicker (preservation of the clubs' right of selectivity and 100% bids) were, by their nature, conflicting and impracticable. Three undergraduates most directly involved in the Bicker were asked by the Weekly to comment.


From the Chairman of the Interclub Committee:

After taking full cognizance of the external bicker difficulties manifested this year, I can only come to one conclusion: the Princeton club tradition of natural selection was, this year, completely incompatible with the practice of 100%. I grant, without reservation, that membership in a club is a most important and formative process in a student's upperclass years; that no club should artificially restrict its membership because of narrowminded social morés. But the one prerogative a club holds most dear, and the one most important factor contributing to the spirit and unity of its members, is the club's right to elect freely its new members.

Admittedly, it would be wonderful if this were to be accomplished so that everyone would be accounted for, and all eligibles, not only could enter the club of their choice but also could be the club's natural preference. Unfortunately, however, this was proven to be an overly idealistic point of view. To achieve our desired end of obtaining bids for all eligibles, the Interclub Committee and the Sophomore Council made a very marked departure from the principle of free and natural selection. The measures taken, although not coercive, established a very fine line between non-interference with the clubs' right of selection and a position of obligation on the clubs' part to accept sophomores not bid initially.

The "paper" success achieved is in no way a justification for the torn emotions, the human conflicts, and the general dissidence aroused in the hearts of the sophomores and the club members. A number of people say it is socially cruel for a club not to accept a man they did not naturally select; in my opinion, speaking as well for the Interclub Committee, it is infinitely more cruel and inhuman to place these unfortunates in a club where it is a known fact that they are not wanted.

This is the explanation for our resolution; this is why there must be a radical revision of bicker procedure and aims. If there is to be a small minority of sophomores who have not received bids from clubs, as there was this year, then these men must be provided for and must not be excluded from facilities for social diversion.

— Sidney A. Staunton '53


From the President of the Sophomore Class:

The approach of the 1953 Bicker period brought with it the realization that the sophomores were for the first time to unite in an effort to obtain their bicker goals. For the three preceding years, the 100% goal had been obtained with a minimum of unfavorable comment and with a truly creditable appearance of cooperation. It was our hope to preserve this ideal, naive as we were to the manipulations that were to follow.

In November it became apparent that if the cooperative aspect of full bidding were to be retained, sophomore activities had of necessity to be confined to work within their own class. It was the unanimous opinion that 100% obtained through coer-cion is more of a discredit than if the goal were not to be achieved at all. Feeling as we did, it naturally followed that we ex-pected that the real initiative and impetus should come from the club presidents, as-sisted by the sophomores.

It became apparent during the bidding period that these same presidents, shackled as they were by affiliations with their graduate boards, their clubs, and their basic sympathy with the theoretical ideal of 100% were incapable of providing the positive impetus necessary.

If we are certain of anything, it is the fact that the Bicker process and the true understanding of the University's social obligations are in need of radical revision if the 100% goal is to be valid. To this problem, there are numerous methods of approach. It is the task of the administration, club representatives, and the sophomore officers to review in the coming months the strenuous and inept course of the 1953 Bicker in an effort to find a reasonable solution.

The sophomores do not deny but rather support wholeheartedly the theoretical appeal of full bidding, yet they will insist in the future on a more equitable reconciliation of this idea with the clubs' unyielding demands for pure selectivity. To seek 100% without this understanding is farcical as this year's Bicker proved so completely.

— Robert B. Russell '55


From the Chairman of the Undergraduate Council (and winner of the Pyne Prize):

Events of this bicker have dispelled any illusions about a sincere acceptance by the undergraduate body of the "developing tradition" of 100%. The last three meetings of the Interclub Committee demonstrated that relatively few are committed to the idea that a boy's admission to Princeton should be a guarantee of opportunities for full social development — to club membership in particular.

For the first time in three years the problem of unbid eligibles was resolved by the Interclub Committee rather than by desperate midnight 'phone calls and pressure applied to three or four specific clubs. The result was a most unfortunate, though at last a sincere expression of prevailing pretensions to "rights of total selectivity"a rather meaningless phrase now with "normal" bidding of 99% of a class and with sections as large as seventy members. The remaining men, after suffering a modified form of martyrdom, were accepted in gestures of humanitarian concern for tile", as individuals. It was explicitly stated. however, that such a procedure would not be repeated in subsequent years.

It is obvious that our previous pride in Princeton's "mature concept of social re- sponsibility" is unfounded. The present campus sentiment, if reflected accurately by the club presidents, discourages hope for a solution of this social problem with-in the existing club framework. As long as the bicker is employed by the clubs to maintain or improve their relative positions on the social ladder and to judge every Princetonian according to superficial standards of conformity and "social acceptability," Princeton will suffer. The narrow and immature social attitudes inherent in and encouraged by, the club system have rendered Administration intervention the only probable solution to this serious problem. — William M. Ruddick '53

In Commons, along Prospect Street and in the pages of the Princetonian the comment was bitter.



On the Campus April 17, 1953, by John Angus McPhee '53

A good many alumni (see Letters) will have seen the Time article of four weeks ago quoting an "editorial" in the Daily Princetonian. Before reporting this humiliating story, here is Time's account:

After Princeton's once exclusive eating clubs had taken in every eligible sophomore for four years in a row, old grads freely said that the democratic dreams of Princeton's onetime President Woodrow Wilson had finally come true. Last week, fingering their old club ties, they read the Daily Princetonian and began to wonder.

After all, said the Princetonian, there are some Princeton men these days who just are not the old eating-club type. "It was clear that of the eligibles who had difficulty this year [getting into clubs], almost every one came alone from a high school in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. These men, though they had excellent high school grades, did not have a social background which would fit them into the Princeton system.

"Was it fair for the University to admit them? Were they informed of the nature of the club system? . . . In other words is the University . . . admitting some men who would definitely be happier at another university ? . . . It would seem advisable," concluded the Princetonian, "to create more Alumni screening committees in the metropolitan area, where so many of this year's 100% problems came from."

The history behind this item is as follows: When the Bicker ended most undergraduates were something less than overjoyed by its "paper success" (see PAW March 13). 100%-bids had been achieved, but it had been accomplished in an artificial manner. After the first night of Open House, the Interclub Committee held the first of a series of patience-strain-ing conferences which eventually re-sulted in bids to all left-over eligibles. Theend was splendid, but the means was not. It was apparent that 100% and the clubs' right of selectivity were felt to be incompatible and that the ungenuine nature of this year's bicker had sprung from the conflict of these principles. No one denied that 100% is a fine ideal; but, likewise, no one denied that the clubs' right of selectivity is a good idea. As a result, English majors (and others) were remembering the opening line of King Richard III: "Now is the winter of our discontent. . . ."

The product of this discontent was a variety of attitudes and suggestions concerning the Bicker. Bicker talk all but monopolized campus conversation for two weeks. And it was at this point that the editors of The Daily Princetonian decided that it was their responsibility to report the many and divergent attitudes and suggestions that were in circulation from Commons to Prospect Street.

Accordingly, on Friday the 13th of March, a two-page "case history" of the 1953 Bicker appeared in the undergraduate newspaper. It is not our present purpose to summarize the contents of that issue. We simply wish to point out that the article which was quoted in Time was but one of the six that the paper contained. Also, like the other five, the article was not intended to express an attitude held by the editors, who later admitted that the article was poorly written (the style was editorial) and poorly placed (under the masthead, the normal location of editorials). For this reason, Princeton was highly vulnerable, and Time's treatment was not completely undeserved.

We are not trying to bail out the Princetonian and we do not doubt that the individual who wrote the now infamous item believed in what he was saying; but it should be made clear that the paper's purpose was to report a variety of attitudes toward the Bicker and not to espouse any one of the many suggestions for revision of the Bicker (or admissions) system.

Because the Princetonian failed to make this clear, a goodly number of irate letters were soon delivered to the editors, who duly printed them. The letters indicated that the attitude expressed in the "editorial" of Friday the 13th was not generally espoused on the campus. The most notable correspondent was history professor E. Harris Harbison '28, who wrote, "In all my years of reading 'Prince' editorials, I have never read anything which touched this for sheer smugness." Harbison's viewpoint was shared by most Faculty members and undergraduates. As the local storm was abating, Time printed its coup and revived the furor.

THE outcome of the Princetonian's mistake seems to be as follows: (1) Time is guilty—as one professor has put it-of "vicious journalism." They did not present the complete story. (2) The "Prince" has learned something about the nature of journalistic responsibility, to which good execu-tion is as essential as good intention. Behind the opaque curtain of over- statement and antagonistic phraseol-ogy, there was actually some merit in whatthe "Prince" had to say; but the merit was lost and Princeton was dis-credited because the article was poorly handled.

Concerning the Bicker itself, the campus is generally agreed that it needs revision. But another approach to the problem was expressed by Thomas Riggs Jr. '37 of the English Department, who also wrote a letter to the Princetonian. "In this March madness," said Professor Riggs, "we can see a maimed initiation rite, not unlike the initiation rites among the Kwakiutl Indians of the Pacific Northwest. . . . There are minor differences in Kwakiutl and Princeton procedure, but in one major difference the Kwakiutl comes off best. He was preparing himself by these intensive means to be worthy of a vision of the supernatural; the Princetonian is preparing himself to be worthy of eating three meals a day. Bicker is a religious frenzy over the choice of a restaurant. . . ."