Princeton's two all-male eating clubs can exclude women as long as they separate themselves from the university, an administrative judge proposed in the most important ruling to date on an eight-year case that has attracted national attention.
The administrative judge's recommendation on the case of Sally Frank, a Princeton graduate who during her undergraduate years applied to join the three all-male clubs, is non-binding.
During her junior year, in 1979 Frank requested to join the Ivy Club, the Tiger Inn, and the University Cottage Club, which has since begun admitting women. Responding to the clubs' denials to admit her, Frank complained to the Division of Civil Rights.
The Division, which took up Frank's case, has the right to reject the judge's recommendation, in which case New Jersey courts will formulate a binding proposal on the status of the clubs.
Representatives of the clubs said that they are content with the ruling. "All of us are really happy that the courts have affirmed our freedom of association," said President of the Tiger In William T. Russell.
If the Division of Civil Rights agrees to the new recommendation, the two eating clubs not admitting women will no longer be able to participate in such Princeton traditions as meal exchanges with other clubs, and intramural athletics.
The Princeton administration has attempted to remain uninvolved in the controversy. "The university has largely extricated itself from these proceedings by a settlement with Sally Frank last summer," said Thomas H. Wright, general counsel of Princeton.
"Obviously, though, the university disapproves of the admission policies of these clubs. We have stated several times that we would prefer that the clubs be coeducational," he said.
Representatives of the Women's Center at Princeton said the ruling disappointed them.
"We would like to see them go coed because it's hard to present Princeton as a good place for women," said Women's Center member Katherine F. Bowman. "It's personally insulting, as well. There's something humiliating that what we are keeps us from being able to join a club."
Generally, the legal controversy surrounding the clubs has not affected their popularity, Princeton students said. "There has been and will continue to be an interest in all-male clubs," said Laura A. Lazarus of the Daily Princetonian. "They're definitely as popular this year as ever," she said.