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Balking President and Obstinate Alumni Sabotage Princeton's Revolt Against Bicker

(Second of Two Parts)

By James K. Glassman

Princeton men are complacent. They come to the grassy Gothic place ready to accept things as they find them.

"Of course there's no anti-Semitism in the clubs," the chairman of the Daily Princetonian told me last week. And nearly everyone else at Princeton agreed. In fact, they were indignant that, I should even ask such a question. The year of the anti-Semitism scandal at Princeton was 1958, when the wire services made it front page news in every paper in the country. But that is all over now. At least it is all over according to club rhetoric.

One-Half Jewish

But the truth is that about one-half of the Woodrow Wilson Society -- the University's alternative for people who don't want to join clubs or can't get in--is Jewish, while the average club is about ten per cent Jewish. And bottom clubs have far more Jews than top clubs.

In 1958 the Interclub Committee (ICC) issued a statement that read: "The ICC recognizes the right of every club to be selective. Selectivity implies the right of a club to impose a religious quota, if it so desires." But this is no longer the case, everyone at Princeton will tell you.

Jews are probably not as actively discriminated against as they used to be. How much discrimination there is during Bicker (when the clubs choose their new members) is impossible to say. But the fact that five times as many Jews join Wilson as join the average club is significant and exposes the exclusionist nature of the club system.

Princeton's clubs stand for homogeneity, moderation, good will, and selectivity. Many of the University's Jews find it impossible or hypocritical to join that kind of exclusionist system. They tend to be more liberal than other Princeton men, and the system appears immoral to them. So many of them choose not to join. Others, faced with the prospect of landing in a bottom club, decide not to join. One Wilson man pointed out that there is a high proportion of math and science men in the bottom clubs (and sociological studies bear him out): "Many Jews are math-science men, and they don't want to be in bottom clubs, so they join Wilson."

The club system creates its own antisystem, centered at the Wilson Society. A disproportionate number of Jews belong to that anti-system. But Jews are not the only outcasts.

The Wilson Society was founded by President Goheen in 1959 because of pressure caused by the '58 scandal. Unlike the clubs, the Society is wide open. Anyone can join, and today there are close to 200 members. Juniors and seniors eat together in Wilcox Hall. Even freshmen and sophomores can join and take advantage of the club's extensive activities--concerts, film programs, playreadings, partying and speakers. The Society's members are far more active than club men, whose activities are limited to partying and eating.

In its seven years of existence Wilson has undergone a metamorphosis. It has become as much a closed society as the clubs are. But ironically, the Wilson members are bound together by their fervent opposition to the isolation of the club system. Wilson's president, Dan Altman, says sarcastically, "To an outsider, this insularity is childish nonsense--to us, it is a way of life, 'the Princeton experience.'"

Pancho Villa

Altman, an articulate senior with a Pancho Villa mustache, was one of the founders of an experimental college at Princeton this year. Again, its founding appears to be a reaction to Princeton insularity. About half the students at the experimental college are Wilson Society members. The Society last year withdrew from the Gentleman's Agreement, which governs club parietals and drinking. Altman says the Society withdrew "on the theory that, in return for a facesaving agreement for the University, which can wave around a piece of paper upon which is written, 'I will be a good boy,' it offers students little besides paternal rules and offers officers the opportunity to enforce them for the Dean."

The exclusionist club system has created this strange situation, by which all the Wilson radicals are herded up to Wilcox Hall to grow angry with the Princeton way of life and yet let their own Society become insular. Nearly all Wilson members are of this outcast variety. They care very little about actively participating in changing the system. Instead of providing the nucleus of this year's revolt, they were repelled by it. The club system is an incredible joke to them, too trivial to bother with. So they left the revolt to the campus leaders--club members who were involved in the system and wanted to change it. Not radically, now. Just an adjustment in Bicker.

Altman is quite explicit. He says that there can be no real social and intellectual diversity at Princeton until: "1)there is a decent proportion of women students on campus and 2) the administration decides to muster up its courage and to spend a good deal of money on imaginative solutions to Princeton's social problems. There is no reason to believe that any such changes are in the works. The nation that students are going to come up with the answers to these problems in their spare time is at best an unrealistic expectation, and at worst, a surrender to the programming of Princeton's Alumni Inertial Guidance System, which keeps us safely on course and out of harm's way--the twentieth century."

There are several reasons why the Bicker revolt failed this year. Altman mentions the administration and the alumni, and they are both a very large part of it.

When Altman talked to President Goheen about the University spending more money to change the club system into something more equitable, he got the answer, "Well, you know we're a poor University." As absurd as it seems, Goheen has a point. He seems to be disillusioned with Bicker. He told a Princetonian reporter in November: "There are no valid ways to make sound judgments...people turn to extraneous, superficial things...Students lose their sense of fair play and good sense in Bicker." But Goheen is not willing to sponsor a wholesale change in the club system, or even publicly state that he is dissatisfied with Bicker.

The clubs are privately-owned, and the University has no real financial control over them. That is again the club rhetoric. Actually, the University is not neutral at all. It could exert a great deal of control over Bicker. Right now it provides financial aid for clubs with money trouble, uses its offices for Bicker registration, oversees the Gentleman's Agreement, and gives scholarship aid to club men even though their board costs twice as much as an Independent's.

The University could use financial pressure in some of those areas or it could simply forbid students to join clubs altogether and institute something like Harvard's House system. Or it could publicly express its distaste for the present system. But it won't. And the reason, as Goheen hints, is financial.

If Goheen tried to change the system, alumni would most certainly cut back their gifts to the University. The "Alumni Inertial Guidance System," which Altman talks about, inhibits the administration's action. Goheen won't act because he is afraid the University will be ruined. And he is probably right.

The alumni tyranny at Princeton is insurmountable. Besides its control over the administration, the alumni directly run all the clubs. Any decision a club makes must be ratified by its graduate board, the old men who keep the club solvent. The chairman of each club grad board is a member of the Grad ICC, and that organization can singlehandedly do whatever it wants to the clubs without University or undergraduate interference.

James W. Newman, who graduated in 1926, is chairman of Tower Club and of the Grad ICC. Although he has led the way in promoting more intellectual activities in clubs by providing speakers and libraries, Newman is typical of the reactionary element of the grad boards. Steve Oxman, president of the Undergraduate Council (UGC) and the prime mover in the Bicker revolt, said that Newman told him that even if 100 per cent of the undergraduates favored the new proposals, the grad ICC wouldn't budge. Only three grad board chairmen said that they would approve of changing Bicker, and then only if the Grad ICC and the UGC were nearly unanimous in their backing.

The rationale of some of these club chairmen is interesting. "It is tough to fail to get into a club you really want," said Colonial's Oliver A. Victor. "But there are many people who really wanted to get into Princeton and didn't make it. I really do not see a great difference in the two problems, and I believe this is part of the current competitive process in Twentieth Century America."

Another chairman said: "You can't sleep with every girl you'd like to. Why do you think you should get into every club you want to."

"Forcing a club to take a boy, or a boy to enter a particular club, only adds to the problems of getting along," commented Ivy chairman C. Pardee Foulke.

Oxman calls the Grad ICC "obdurate," and that seems a mild epithet. He sees no chance for the enactment of his proposal to liberalize Bicker unless there is a radical change in the nature of Princeton's alumni. And there does seem to be a change coming somewhere on the horizon.

The clubs are getting into financial trouble, John Alexander, chairman of the Prince told me. Colonial club president. Bruce Hazard thinks that this sudden money problem could have come because the alumni is finding more important things to donate their money to. Twentieth century egalitarianism could be catching. If it is, the clubs, which have very large budgets, could soon fold when the alumni decide to give them less money. Colonial, for example, employs ten full-time servants, and things get very expensive.

Oxman says that his only hope is that the University will offer to buy the clubs and the grad boards, in financial trouble, will jump at the deal. Then, with financial control, the University could run the clubs as it pleased. Hopefully, says Oxman, more equitably.

The timidity of the administration and the intransigence of the alumni were things that Oxman and the revolutionaries didn't figure on. Oxman thought he would get most of his trouble from the students, but if he could convince them, he would have it made. The students and the clubs posed a problem that the reformers could not solve. But even if

"You can't sleep with every girl you'd like to. Why do you think you should get into every club you want to?" one club's grad board chairman said.6

TELL THEM BY THEIR FACES

Princeton undergraduate sociologists are constantly making studies of the oddities of Bicker and the club system. The chart below lists the clubs and the Woodrow Wilson Society and compares Darryl Kancko's face ranking of the clubs to Nelson Rose's consensus ranking. The face ranking was prepared using the Freshman Herald for the Class of 1967. A sample of students rated the 718 men on the Princeton grading scale, from 1 (top) to 7 (bottom), from what they thought of them just looking at their faces. Rose's ranking was gathered from questionnaires of more than 100 clubmen. Face rank information was not available for Dial Lodge.

  Face  ConsensusClub  Rank  RankCottage  1  1Cap and Gown  2  4Tiger  3  2Ivy  4  3Colonial  5  5Tower  6  6Cannon  7  8Charter  8  9Quadrangle  9  7Campus  10  10Dial  --  11Cloister  11  12Elm  12  13Terrace  13  14Key and Seal  14  15Woodrow Wilson  15  16Reprinted from the Daily Princetonian

TELL THEM BY THEIR FACES

Princeton undergraduate sociologists are constantly making studies of the oddities of Bicker and the club system. The chart below lists the clubs and the Woodrow Wilson Society and compares Darryl Kancko's face ranking of the clubs to Nelson Rose's consensus ranking. The face ranking was prepared using the Freshman Herald for the Class of 1967. A sample of students rated the 718 men on the Princeton grading scale, from 1 (top) to 7 (bottom), from what they thought of them just looking at their faces. Rose's ranking was gathered from questionnaires of more than 100 clubmen. Face rank information was not available for Dial Lodge.

  Face  ConsensusClub  Rank  RankCottage  1  1Cap and Gown  2  4Tiger  3  2Ivy  4  3Colonial  5  5Tower  6  6Cannon  7  8Charter  8  9Quadrangle  9  7Campus  10  10Dial  --  11Cloister  11  12Elm  12  13Terrace  13  14Key and Seal  14  15Woodrow Wilson  15  16Reprinted from the Daily Princetonian

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