Monday, February 15, 2010

Princeton's bicker and undergraduate political attitudes 

Of Princeton's storied "eating clubs" (which sprang in to place in the 19th century after the university banned fraternities), five are selective and choose their members in a process known as the "bicker" (the rest admit their members by lottery). The popularity of the selective clubs waxes and wanes with fashion. Some years lots of sophomores turn out for the bicker, and other years far fewer do. Since the selective clubs have always been unpopular with the political left, it has seemed that they become more popular when the left is less so, relatively speaking. The bicker pool increased significantly among my class (sophomores in February 1981), for example, a majority of whom supported Ronald Reagan in the previous November's election (along with the freshmen that year, but in contrast with the juniors and seniors, who went for Carter).

All of that wind-up leads to this bit of news, which is that the number of sophomores turning out to bicker at the selective clubs increased significantly this year. I have no idea whether the same correlation exists among today's undergraduates, but thirty years ago that would have probably meant that the bundle of lefty values are becoming less popular on campus. Any alumni or current undergraduates who have something to add, please do.


By Blogger Ray, at Mon Feb 15, 08:15:00 AM:

I wasn't exactly a close follower of the clubs, but Campus (a sign-in club) underwent a huge decline in the years 2002-2006, culminating in its closing.  

By Blogger TOF, at Mon Feb 15, 08:45:00 AM:

Discrmination!! That's illegal!!!!

That was a leading statement I used to use when I taught an insurance class at UNL. The class would nod in agreement. Then I would point out that only certain kinds of discrimination are deemed illegal.

If I want to decide who I dine with that should be my choice. After all, everyone does it. Right?  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Feb 15, 08:56:00 AM:

With a comprehensive data set like this for your conclusion, you might consider changing to climate science.  

By Blogger Indispensable Destiny, at Mon Feb 15, 09:21:00 AM:

It seems that Tower had a surge, but the other four had the usual numbers.

I don't think you can assign political leanings to bicker numbers. College kids are fickle. I recall in our time that Charter Club had a huge surge in a "takeover" sign in session. The selective clubs have up and down years, but they balance out over time.

We were at the end of a long drought at the selective clubs. The activism that came late to Princeton had just run its course. All you need to do is look at class photos in the club to see the change.

Unfortunately, the fickleness can kill a club if the trustees can't survive an ebb in membership. Too bad; Elm, Dial, and Campus were nice clubs.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 15, 09:31:00 AM:

Not that we hold a grudge, but my fraternity was founded at Penn in 1850; Beta Chapter was at Princeton.
IIRC, in 1852, the brain trust at Princeton threw us off campus and adopted the heathen eating clubs.
We were able to keep the pressure on and, in very recent years, were able to force the Princeton brain trust to reinstate Beta Chapter.
So, as I understand it, Princeton now has both a bicker and a rush.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 15, 11:38:00 AM:

I am consistently astounded at Ivy League graduates' inability to let go of their Alma Mater(s). The guys over at Powerline can't seem to stop themselves from writing about the inner workings of Dartmouth (yes, Dartmouth!). TH maintains an adolescent fascination with Princeton.

With all respect, TH, let it go. Nobody cares about eating clubs at Princeton.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Mon Feb 15, 11:51:00 AM:

It's not so hard, really, to read what is interesting, skip the rest, and start a blog if one has something they really need to say or see in print. I am consistently astounded at the need some people have to tell other people what they should say, think or be interested in.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Feb 15, 02:37:00 PM:

Astounded? Isn't that the heart of progressivism?  

By Blogger Mrs. Davis, at Mon Feb 15, 02:50:00 PM:

If Anonymous had a blog she would no doubt be this side of paradise. And astounded if she had readers.  

By Anonymous eliora@israel, at Mon Feb 15, 03:25:00 PM:

i faced selection many times in my life-private parties, clubs and so on and so on. but it does not really work. instaed of getting intellegent or rich or any other elite audience in such places you can find two main groups of people- young hot ladies and old ugly men who pay for them))  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 15, 03:56:00 PM:

I was class of '81 and can confirm that at the outset of our senior year, the lower classmen looked to us like 50's retreads with their preprofessional demeanors, short hair, buttoned-down look and pro-Reagan attitudes. Most of my classmates bought the line that Reagan was a crazy warmonger and would drop the bomb on Iran. On the other hand, most of my friends and I ended up voting for John Anderson because we couldn't stomach more of the feckless Jimmy Carter. After 9/11, I finally threw in the towel and came to grips with my essential libertarian/independent conservative-leaning outlook and stopped voting for Democrats. It took that long! Where's Ronald Reagan when you really need him (again)? Oh, and I didn't bicker and still think there's something vaguely objectionable about it, but maybe that's a vestigial emotion. Princeton's also a better, healthier place socially than it used to be when it was adjusting to diversity back in the '70s, of that I'm sure. Times change, but they really changed a lot at the outset of the '80s.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Feb 15, 05:41:00 PM:

"Princeton's also a better, healthier place socially than it used to be when it was adjusting to diversity back in the '70s"

Have they started admitting Jews yet? OK, cheapshot I know and probably long OBE - I think Princeton may have even had a Jewish president by now. But when I was growing up it was notorious for its, shall we say, religiously selective admissions.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 15, 06:16:00 PM:

Appointing a Jewish president was a watershed, for sure. But in the late '70s, the place was dysfunctional in many respects, not one having to do with Jews - there were two males for every female, the alienated new minorities segregated themselves into corners like the Princeton Inn, the preps and the public school kids were from two different planets, there were still legacy admits that just couldn't cut it academically, and it was the cynical 70s, somewhere in limbo between the idealism of the '60s and the new prosperity of the '80s. I think Shapiro's appointment and for some reason Brooke Shields's admission were symbolic harbingers of renewal...  

By Anonymous Kirk Petersen, at Mon Feb 15, 06:17:00 PM:

Gee Gary, how old ARE you? I graduated in the class of 1980, at which time Princeton had a large and thriving Jewish community, complete with a kosher dining facility on Prospect Street.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Feb 15, 07:23:00 PM:

We had an eating club at Hopkins called The Pithotomy Club (derived from the process of killing a frog in lab, but meant to mean tap a keg of beer). It was men only, served two meals a day and traced it's origins back to the last century.

During parties, the "loo" was in an alley between buildings and one night I found myself conversing with two Nobel Prize winners as we peed in the alley.

Besides being one of my best experiences in school, it allowed me to connect with some great people.

They finally got closed with a wimper about ten years ago, a victim of real estate growth and women's rights movements.

End of an era.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Feb 15, 08:40:00 PM:

I'm 59, graduated HS in 1968, talking through the mid-60s at least. Of course this is all unofficial and anecdotal. But my father was an alumnus of another Ivy League university and did an extensive amount of volunteer work for their admissions department. Once he supposedly got a rundown of Jewish quotas for the whole Ivy League as follows:

Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Cornell - no quotas

Yale, Dartmouth, Brown - suspected

Princeton - FER SURE

I'm not trying to whine here and certainly am not trying to take a shot at our esteemed host and other Princeton grads. I've had a good life affected very little by antisemitism. The topic just reminded me that things used to be different. Another example: in Hartford, CT where I grew up there were three major country clubs - Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. Somehow we survived it all.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Feb 15, 08:45:00 PM:

I may need to note (or maybe I don't) that "Jewish quotas" were a method of *reducing* the number of Jews admitted since at that time Jews, like Asians today, were succeeding in academics far out of proportion to their numbers. The negative view of quotas among Jews that resulted from this was one of the primary original reasons for the political split between Jews and blacks.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Feb 15, 10:41:00 PM:

When I entered Princeton in 1979, four of seven of us in a suite in Wilson College (1937 Hall, for those of you keeping track at home) were Jewish. About 20% of Princeton's undergrads were Jewish, but that was the (along with Dartmouth, I believe) the smallest proportion of Jews in the Ivy League at the time. Of course, there were vastly fewer east and south Asians than there are today. Final observation, the first line of The Sun Also Rises, written in 1925 (if memory serves), is "Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion at Princeton." Yes, it is fiction, but the idea of a Jew at Princeton was not laughably implausible even in 1925.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 16, 06:58:00 AM:

Here is a good summary of the history of Princeton's eating clubs.

Key and Seal - We're still not sure who got the leaded glass emblem over the front door.

PS: Does anyone remember Judson Culbeth? J.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Tue Feb 16, 09:22:00 AM:

As a female student in the early 80s at Princeton, I was saddened by the lawsuit which eventually ended the ability of clubs to be single sex since I thought this option was a valid one for these social clubs. That said, there were a lot more men than women at PU those days (that is not a complaint...) so it also made sense for the times. If there is one thing I value about Princeton above other attributes it is the ability of the school to change in appropriate ways in response to student needs and the times while still maintaining the traditions which many of hold in great regard. (Sorry to the above poster who seems to think this is a defect among alumni of these Ivies). This particular change was mandated, of course.

I can't comment on the political attitudes implied by the return to bicker except to say that if it reflected current attitudes the students would be joining tea houses rather than eating clubs.  

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