Web Exclusives: 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,
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
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.
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
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 outcome of the Princetonian's mistake seems to be as follows:
(1) Time is guiltyas 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. . . ."