For more than a century, private eating clubs have played an integral role in undergraduate student life at Princeton University. While alternative dining and social options have been available, especially in recent decades, most juniors and seniors join a club early in the spring semester of their sophomore years and many develop strong attachments to their clubs. Over time, the nature of the club system has evolved as the number and demographics of clubs have changed, as have the forms of meal service, the processes for selecting members, and the guidelines governing social activities. There has also been an evolution in the relationships between the clubs and the University; there have been times of closer and more supportive relationships, as well as times of more distant and even antagonistic relationships.
Over recent years there have been a number of initiatives by the clubs and the University that have led to more mutually beneficial relationships. These have included, among others, the Prospect Initiative, which provided alcohol-free events on Prospect Avenue that were open to all undergraduates; A Taste of Prospect, which provided opportunities for freshmen to get to know the clubs by having dinner in them; a club-University working group that developed a Best Practices handbook for club officers and has continued to update the handbook; a change in the University's financial aid policies to increase the meal allowance for junior and senior years so all students who wish to join clubs can afford to do so; and the development of shared meal plans with the four-year residential colleges to allow some students to take meals both in the colleges and in the clubs. There have also been efforts to more accurately and fully describe the role of the eating clubs in admission materials and other University publications and websites.
Given these recent developments, the increase in the size of the undergraduate student body, the financial challenges being faced by both the clubs and the University, and the full implementation of the four-year college system with the completion of the new Butler College dormitories, this seems an appropriate time to ask a task force of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to review the relationships between the University and the eating clubs and to examine whether there are steps that can and should be taken to strengthen those relationships for the mutual benefit of the clubs and the University, and for the benefit of Princeton students and the undergraduate experience. We are asking the task force to spend this year consulting widely, thinking creatively, and deliberating thoughtfully, and then to bring forward its observations and recommendations by the end of the spring semester.
Among the issues that we hope the task force will consider are whether there are ways to improve the club experience for students who are members and the application process for students who wish to become members; whether there are ways to increase engagement with the clubs for students who currently choose not to become members; whether there are ways to strengthen relationships between the clubs and the colleges and between students in the clubs and students who choose not to join the clubs; whether there are additional "best practices" that can and should be identified; and whether we can do a better job of describing the nature of the clubs to potential applicants and admitted students.