Cautioning against Further Pre-Professionalism at Princeton

In the most recent faculty meeting held April 23, the faculty voted on two important changes to academic life at the University. The first was passage of calendar reform, which the Board previously endorsed. The second was unanimous approval of a new Journalism certificate. The Board commends passage of both of these measures, in particular because they demonstrate the faculty’s responsiveness to the opinions and advocacy of the student body. The University has offered Journalism courses for over 50 years, and many students and the Humanities Council have advocated for Princeton to create a certificate in the field. Given the high interest in the Journalism certificate and the breadth, depth, and quality of the University’s existing courses in the subject, the Board supports approval of the certificate. However, we caution the University against creating many additional “pre-professional” certificates, which we believe would undermine Princeton's admirable and valuable focus on a liberal arts education.

Princeton, in contrast to some of our peer institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, is known for its focus on the liberal arts. The benefits of a traditional liberal arts education are many. Courses are aimed at providing students with robust critical thinking skills that help them think through and solve any question or challenge they encounter at Princeton and after graduation. Precepts and seminars encourage robust intellectual discourse and argumentation between students. All students are exposed to a wide range of classes and academic pursuits because of the distribution requirements. As a result, students leave Princeton having developed their intellectual curiosity, accumulated a broad academic skill set, and explored diverse interests, rather than having focused on the specific skill set of one area such as business or law through a pre-professional program.

There is certainly some merit to pre-professional programs in that they equip students with technical and practical skills in a certain area, which can prepare students well for the workforce and signal interest to future employers or graduate schools. It is for this reason that the University offers a few certificates that are professionally oriented, including the existing Finance certificate and the new Journalism certificate. However, some students’ participation in these programs may be motivated by job preparation, rather than purely by intellectual curiosity. Therefore, we caution the University against creating many other professional certificates, such as “Pre-Law” or “Pre-Medicine” certificates. Adding too many pre-professional certificates would likely erode the liberal arts focus of Princeton’s education.

Were there widespread pre-professional certificates, students might feel compelled to pursue these certificates in order to signal their interest in post-graduation opportunities. In the status quo, because Princeton is known as a liberal arts institution, students do not have to major in technical subjects to obtain jobs after graduation. For example, investment bankers do not expect Princeton students to have majored in business, and accordingly investment banks often hire Princetonians from majors as diverse as Politics or English. By contrast, at a school like UPenn, students may be expected to major in Finance at the Wharton School in order to be competitive applicants for these jobs. Creating additional professional certificates and cultivating a more pre-professional atmosphere at the University could impose more career-oriented expectations for course selection on students. This could undermine students’ intellectual freedom and flexibility to explore varied subject areas because certificate programs often have stringent requirements for courses and independent work. Given the limited scope of current pre-professional programs at the University, we do not believe these certificates erode Princeton’s commitment to the liberal arts. But we do believe the approval of the Journalism certificate is an important opportunity to reiterate the value of a liberal arts education.

University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 put it well: “I came to Princeton because I wanted a liberal arts education that would enable me to pursue multiple interests rigorously and deeply. I concentrated in physics, but the courses that most shaped by intellectual life were in constitutional law, political theory, and comparative literature.” That he made his career as a constitutional scholar and President of the University, despite having majored in physics, is a good example of the career flexibility and intellectual breadth that a Princeton liberal arts education offers students. As the faculty continues to consider future certificates, we urge them to keep this value in mind and avoid approving many additional pre-professional certificates.

Jack Whelan ‘19 and Nicholas Wooldridge ‘21 abstained from the writing of this editorial.

Improving Room Draw

Living arrangements on campus are a fundamental aspect of the Princeton experience. Students sleep, socialize, work, and decompress in their rooms; they are one of the few places that undergraduates can personalize and call their own. As such, room draw is understandably a stressful time. Students worry over their draw time, over the type of room they will be able to select, over who they will be living with. Princeton should ensure the logistical aspects of room draw ease the process for undergraduates and minimize these uncertainties. The Board proposes that Housing & Real Estate Services better circulate information concerning room draw, streamline the housing website and its available resources, eliminate loopholes in the draw system, and revise shared meal plan allocations.

To begin, information on the logistics and intricacies of room draw is not well publicized at Princeton. Few relevant emails are sent to college listservs; information sessions are sparsely attended. In a system as complicated as ours, with six unique draws that students can enter into as rising upperclassmen, Princeton needs to promote a better understanding of room draw among its students. One simple remedy would be for Residential College Advisors to explain the sophomore and upperclassmen draw processes to their freshmen students and remain available as resources once room draw starts.

Further reform should take place on the Undergraduate Housing website. As inspiration, Princeton could look towards the Eating Clubs site, which is easy to navigate and transparent regarding all aspects of the clubs. The My Housing portion of Princeton’s site is both lacking in information and difficult to navigate—in particular, the “How Rooms Drew” document could be improved. It should delineate between different draws and give the actual number that rooms drew in rather than just a list with draw times that change year to year. In addition, the document would be vastly more useful if it contained more information than just the room number; for instance, the square footage, the number of occupants, and whether or not the room has a bathroom.

The Board also proposes changes to the upperclassmen residential college draw process. It is currently possible for students to manipulate their draw time by entering into each of the three residential college draws with different groups consisting of students from the respective colleges. This gives them higher weights in each draw time selection, and the student can choose whichever of the three draws allocated him the best time. This loophole could be eliminated by requiring students to draw with the same group for each college, limiting the number of college draws they can enter, or averaging their draw position across each college.

The limited allocation of shared meal plans further disadvantages upperclassmen in eating clubs who would like to join a four year residential college. Princeton should strive to foster strong residential college communities; forcing some students to leave their college after they join a club defeats this objective. The University should either increase the allotment of shared meal plans to each club or discard the meal plan requirement for drawing into a four year college (while still giving priority to students who will select a meal plan). This change would greatly benefit eating club members who would like to room with friends not in clubs and those students whose schedules are more suited to college meal times than eating club meal times. Moreover, it would create stronger residential college communities and forge ties between eating club members and other students across all class years.

Room draw is a stressful time for all Princeton students. The administration should do all it can to improve the process—the changes outlined in this editorial would be both easy to implement and beneficial to the campus community.

Opposing Proposed Meal Plan Changes

Last week, drafts of a plan to amend the structure of student meal plans became available. The plan included proposals such as a mandatory “community” meal plan for upperclassmen who are not in eating clubs, a decrease in the number of dining hall swipes available to eating club members, and a mandatory unlimited meal plan for underclassmen. While the proposed plan may aim to create a more cohesive campus community, it will have the opposite effect in practice by limiting the number of meals eating club members can have in dining halls with underclassmen and independent students. The Board opposes this proposal to alter the meal plan structure as it disproportionately disadvantages certain students, restricts the number of meals eating club members may eat in residential colleges, and deprives underclassmen of plan options.

The Board opposes the proposed “community plan,” which would be a required meal plan for upperclassmen (including those in co-ops) who are not in eating clubs and would cost $2500around $10.71 per meal. This meal cost is higher than what a student would pay through buying groceries, and as such both financially penalizes and limits the freedom of students who wish to go independent. Many students wish to go independent because they want the freedom to spend their money how they see fit; the introduction of the community plan would deprive students of this freedom by mandating they pay a set amount each year for meals they may not want. Furthermore, the plan disproportionately disadvantages low-income students, who may wish to go independent to save money on meals. This also forces students whose dietary needs may be better served by their own cooking than by campus dining to pay for a meal plan that may not fully fit their needs.

Further, this mandatory community plan would likely deter co-op membership because students would have to pay a co-op fee on top of this community plan fee. Co-ops are strong campus communities for their members and could be threatened by this change if enough students do not wish to pay for both the community plan and a co-op. Though the plan wishes to build residential college community, the unfortunate reality is given their size, it is almost impossible for a residential college to have the same close-knit community as a smaller group. For example, many students find strong communities in co-ops, which students may be hesitant to join because of the financial burden of this plan, meaning it could effectively deprive students of a chance to engage in a close-knit community.

The Board additionally objects to the proposal that upperclassmen in eating clubs receive five meals per semester in their home residential college. This is a decrease from the two dining hall swipes per week upperclassmen currently get. Limiting the number of meals eating club members can eat in the dining halls will increase the upperclassmen/underclassmen divide by making it more difficult for them to eat meals together. It may also worsen the divide between upperclassmen who are and are not members of eating clubs by making it more difficult to eat in the dining halls with upperclassmen friends on a meal plan. Thus, the Board believes that though the plan draft states community as one of its goals, it may actually damage the sense of campus community, particularly with regard to upperclassmen/underclassmen divide and the divide between eating club and non-eating club upperclassmen.

Finally, the Board opposes the proposals forcing all underclassmen to have an unlimited meal plan and eliminating late meal. Students should have the option to choose the meal plan they feel is appropriate for them based on their eating habits. Though the plan appears to encourage students to eat all their meals in the dining hall, it neglects to acknowledge that many students do not eat three meals per day and thus could still eat all their meals in the dining hall with a smaller meal plan. This disadvantages students who have fewer meals and prioritizes those who have many; students should not be forced to pay for meals for which they have no use. Additionally, by eliminating late meal, the proposal destroys an incredibly important aspect of the underclassmen social experience. Late meal unifies underclassmen and allows students to gather and form a sense of community in a way unique from dining hall meals, making its elimination detrimental to the campus community.

Because the draft meal plan disadvantages non-eating club studentsparticularly those of low-income backgroundsincreases community divides on campus, deprives underclassmen of the ability to choose an appropriate meal plan, and eliminates an important aspect of the underclassmen social experience, the Board opposes the proposed changes to the current meal plan system.

Dissent

This dissent is primarily concerned with an issue about which the Board has written before: the importance of strengthening the sign-in clubs. As the Board noted previously, "sign-in clubs have broadly experienced membership declines over the past decade" since the University created the four-year residential college system. While the University has taken admirable steps to increase the dining and residential options available to upperclassmen, these changes have seemingly discouraged students from joining sign-in eating clubs, lowering these clubs’ membership rates. This is unfortunate because sign-in clubs play an important role on campus as inclusive alternatives to bicker clubs and as another option for upperclassmen to find a community at Princeton. The University has an interest in promoting tight-knit communities such as those found in eating clubs. Gradual erosion of the eating club system, to be replaced by non-community-focused dining options, would not strengthen the University community.

We argue that the proposed changes would have the positive benefit of stemming such erosion by encouraging more students to join sign-in eating clubs. Requiring all non-eating club members to purchase a ‘community meal plan’ corrects the disincentives the current system creates against joining eating clubs, by essentially paying students to go independent through increasing financial aid to all upperclassmen. The reality is that it is extremely unlikely eating clubs will be abolished. Each club has a strong alumni network, the University does not have the capacity to feed all upperclassmen without the clubs, and eating clubs provide positive and tight-knit social communities for their members in a way residential colleges and upperclassmen dorms do not. Given that the eating club system is likely here to stay, the University ought to do as much as possible to strengthen the sign-in clubs so they remain viable alternatives to bicker clubs. By making it impossible to go fully independent, the proposed changes should boost membership at sign-in clubs.

That said, the proposed policies are not perfect. For example, an additional positive step would be for the University to commit to providing sufficient financial aid to eating club members to ensure that there is no financial obstacle to joining a club. The University should also exempt co-op members, in addition to eating club members, from purchasing the community meal plan because co-ops provide a similar community experience as the clubs do. We believe the proposed changes would create a substantial improvement over the status quo by supporting stronger sign-in club membership; accordingly, we support these changes and respectfully dissent from this editorial.

Signed,

Allison Berger ‘18
Theodore Furchtgott ‘18

Advice to Admitted Students: How to Make the Most of Your Princeton Preview Experience

To admitted students in the Class of 2022, congratulations! On Monday and Tuesday, the first group of you will visit campus for Princeton Preview. Preview is a chance for admitted students, both decided and undecided, to have a better look at Princeton, and the entire campus community is excited to welcome you to campus. The University hosts a range of activities to explore academics, extracurriculars, and residential college life during Preview. Though the schedule is often packed, the Board has the following recommendations for you to make the most of your Preview experience.

Starting with academics, the University typically gives prefrosh a suggested list of courses to visit during Preview. This list, however, is far from comprehensive and does not showcase the full diversity and depth of courses offered at Princeton. If you have time, browse the University’s course offerings online and don’t limit yourself to the guide offered at Preview in deciding which classes to visit. You can sit in on any lecture class and can contact professors if there is a seminar that you would like to attend. Chances are, the professor will let you attend class. The Board recommends visiting as many classes as fit into your schedule because academics will be the core of your Princeton experience. While Preview technically lasts two days, the majority of scheduled activities are on Monday. This makes Tuesday a great opportunity to attend more classes if you will be staying on campus prior to traveling home.

Since much of Princeton’s academic life takes place outside of the classroom, as students often study together and collaborate on assignments, it is also worthwhile to visit the departmental buildings of majors in which you are interested. Prospective Economics majors can stop by the Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building to see students working on problem sets together in office hours. The Woodrow Wilson School is housed in Robertson Hall; take note of the many flyers posted around the building advertising the lectures and talks the Woodrow Wilson School hosts for its students and the campus at large. East Pyne is the home of many of the humanities departments; stop by to see students reading for class in one of Princeton’s most beautiful libraries, Chancellor Green. Pre-frosh interested in the sciences or engineering should take a walk to Frick and the E-Quad. Preview is a unique opportunity to roam campus, explore, and picture yourself where you might be spending the bulk of your next four years

Turning to extracurriculars, one of the main events on the first afternoon of Preview is the activities fair. Representatives from countless student groups set up tables in Dillon Gym. The board highly encourages pre-frosh visit the fair to see the incredible diversity of student-led groups on campus, from publications, to club sports, to performing arts groups, to religious and cultural groups, and more. This is your best opportunity to speak with current Princeton students who share an interest with you, and even sign for listservs of groups that you are interested in for the fall (although don’t feel obligated to put your email down!). If there is a group you wanted to learn more about but was not at the fair, feel free to Google the group, find the contact information of their leadership, and email with any questions - current Princetonians are happy to answer your questions during and after Preview as you make your decision. 

A highlight of Preview is the Inside of Princeton Arts Show at Richardson Auditorium. The show is a display of the many different performance groups at Princeton. Every year, current Princeton students try to attend along with the prefrosh and space runs out, which shows you how popular the show is. So make sure you go! Acapella arch sings are another unique Princeton tradition, and many groups will be hosting them for Preview. If you able to attend one, it will be well worth your time.

Finally, try get a sense for Princeton’s campus life. Princeton is unique from many other schools in its close-knit residential college system and the fact that nearly 100% of students live on campus all four years, which makes for a strong sense of campus community. All underclassmen live and eat in residential dining halls, while upperclassmen are able to choose between a variety of dining and housing options. Preview is a chance to experience residential college life through your host and sharing dining hall meals with them. Eating clubs will also be open for tours during Preview. The clubs are a large part of social life at Princeton for all students and a large part of community life for the majority of upperclassmen who join a club. You may not have learned as much about eating clubs during the application process, so we encourage you to go on the eating club tours to get any questions you have about the clubs answered. Between residential colleges and eating clubs, it can be easy to forget that there is a vibrant town outside of the campus. Take a trip to Nassau Street if you have time - visit the UStore to purchase some new Princeton gear, stop by Labyrinth Books where students purchase all their coursebooks, and visit favorite eateries like Small World Coffee, the Bent Spoon, Frutta Bowls, Milk & Cookies, and more.

Princeton Preview is most importantly an opportunity to meet current Princeton students and other prospective students. Current students as well as faculty members will be happy to talk to you and answer questions. Make the most out of Preview; ask as many questions as you can to fully understand if Princeton is right for you. Congratulations on your acceptance, and have a wonderful time at Preview!

Praising the University’s Support for Free Expression and Encouraging USG’s Political Neutrality

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, there has been significant nationwide debate over gun reform. In response, last week, Princeton affirmed applicants’ right to peaceful protest by stating that they would not be disadvantaged for resulting disciplinary action. At the same time, many campus groups have been working to organize an on-campus protest regarding gun violence, which USG had considered endorsing. While the Board praises the University’s statement regarding applicants’ right to peaceful protest and supports student groups’ right to protest, the Board believes that for USG to take a political stance on the issue would be antithetical and destructive to its purpose as an organization.

USG exists to represent the student body as a whole, and as such, the Board believes it should function as an apolitical organization to respect the diverse set of beliefs held its by its student body. Even when student opinion overwhelmingly supports one side of a given issue, there will always be students who fall on the other side. By taking a political stance, USG could marginalize the voices of students with differing opinions and prematurely shut down debate, creating a chilling effect on the speech of students who go against the official stance. Because USG is in charge of funding student groups, an official stance could also generate concerns that only groups supporting their stance would be funded, thus discouraging dissenting groups from getting the funding they need and limiting campus discourse. Further, USG serves a unique function on campus of working with the administration on the student body’s behalf and hosting events that “foster a sense of community.” Given that political stances and events are inherently divisive, this endorsement would be inconsistent with USG’s mission. As such, the Board also opposes the creation of a Public Engagement Chair, whose job would entail, in part, political advocacy on USG’s behalf.

The Board notes that there are already a large number of political activism groups on campus advocating on behalf of issues across the political spectrum. The precedent of discussing and endorsing one political issue could put USG under pressure to discuss all relevant political issues, which would take considerable time due to the high levels of student engagement at Princeton. Given the incredible number of projects USG works to accomplish, it does not make sense for them to spend their already scarce time debating issues outside their purview, especially when these issues are already being worked on by many other student groups.

The Board has consistently defended the right to free speech and debate, and praises the University for upholding these rights in the application process by not disadvantaging students for engaging in peaceful protest. Additionally, while the Board supports the right of student groups to peacefully protest, it does not support USG endorsement of a particular protest or political cause; this would both chill student discourse and be inconsistent with USG’s stated mission. Though in this case, it appears USG has decided not to endorse the protest, there was support for endorsement by several USG members. The Board believes USG should continue to remain neutral on this topic and other political topics in the future.

The Freedom to Teach and to Learn

Controversy over Professor Lawrence Rosen’s use of the n-word in his class, since cancelled, has roiled Princeton’s campus and attracted national media attention. The facts of the case are by this point well known: Rosen, teaching his long-standing “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography” class, repeatedly said the n-word as an example, even after initial requests to stop. The situation escalated, with students walking out of the class and confronting Rosen. A few days later, Rosen decided to cancel his class due to death threats and increased furor, although both President Eisgruber and the Head of the Anthropology Department, Professor Carolyn Rouse, had voiced their support for his academic freedom.

The Board commends Eisgruber’s and Rouse’s responses and their clear distinction between the (possibly profound) offensiveness of Rosen’s actions and his academic freedom. But the ultimate cancellation of the class sets a dangerous precedent—public pressure and threats neither ought to preclude a professor’s academic freedom nor overwhelm valuable opportunities for open public discourse.

We emphasize that we are not addressing Rosen’s use of the n-word itself, or seeking to minimize any deeply held reactions to the episode. Additionally, none of the Board was present in the class in question, so our opinion is solely based on second-hand reports.

However, as Rouse and Eisgruber argued, Rosen should have been able to continue to teach his class. Rosen is a distinguished professor who has taught this class for over a decade without incident. While this does not give him a free pass to conduct his class in all ways, it does mean that his pedagogical decisions, even if controversial, should be trusted. As Eisgruber argued, it is crucial “to have academic freedom that allows people to have pedagogical choices on how to teach difficult subjects” in order to have fruitful inquiry and discussion.

Rouse made a further point: Rosen’s class takes place over an entire semester. By “not trusting the process,” students were deprived of the ability “to argue why hate speech should or should not be protected.” It should be noted that Rouse is hardly a paradigmatic defender of free speech, to put it mildly. She led the walk-out protest of Charles Murray, and gave a lecture this fall entitled “F%*# Free Speech.” Her admirable willingness to defend Rosen shows just how central and crucial academic freedom for pedagogical decisions and subject matter is to the idea of a university.

Far from being an empty catchphrase, the Board emphasizes that academic freedom allows many classes that contain potentially offensive material to proceed. In Professor Peter Singer’s class, for instance, he presents arguments for infanticide—an act which could well provoke a visceral reaction in some students. We need not equate or even compare this example with Rosen’s use of the n-word. Both of them have the potential to offend, as do the subjects of many other class discussions. Public pressure to cancel a class because of such material sets a dangerous precedent.

Instead of instinctively shouting down debate because of offense or disagreement with pedagogical methods, a more beneficial response would have been to engage with the heated discussion, as Rouse and Eisgruber note. In fact, before Rosen felt forced to cancel the class, such a productive debate raged. Opinion piece after opinion piece appeared in the Daily Princetonian; these took various sides of the issue, but opinions were aired out civilly and logically. But pressuring Rosen to cancel his class attempts to stifle all further discussion.

Given the increased national attention to issues of race, and indeed the sudden campus attention that the controversy garnered, an open discourse on Rosen’s use of the n-word was productive and beneficial. Rosen’s class could have accomplished this, both in the confines of the classroom and outside of it. As Rouse pointed out in her letter, there are many current hot-button issues that revolve around the concept of hate speech or taboo. Had the class been allowed to continue, its aim would have been to arm students with arguments “other than ‘because it made me feel bad,’” in Rouse’s words.

The Board has emphasized the importance of academic freedom and free speech again and again. Far from being abstract concepts, here we see an instance in which the instinct to censor and dismiss offensive content has directly resulted in the stifling of discourse on a matter important to the campus. Whatever your views on Rosen’s actions, his receiving death threats and consequently feeling forced to cancel his class is nothing to be celebrated.

Praise and Recommendations for Princeton Calendar Reform

Last month, the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform released a final survey to gather student opinions on proposed calendar reforms, most notably a plan to move fall exams before winter break. Additional calendar reforms include advancing the beginning of fall classes to the first week of September; creating a two-week non-credit Wintersession in January; moving spring semester up by one week; and implementing a seven-day final exam period in both semesters. The Board generally praises the proposed reformsparticularly highlighting the benefits of taking final exams before winter breakand further suggests that classes begin in the last week of August and that Wintersession be shortened to 1 week, thus allowing a two-week final exam period in both semesters.

Moving final exams to before winter break will allow more symmetry between semesters, increase academic fairness, and improve student’s mental health. Currently, Princeton’s fall semester takes place over a longer span of time than its spring semester. Additionally, fall semester breaks are more frequent and lengthy than spring semester breaks. Certain courses are taught both fall and spring semester, and some students may elect to take a course in the fall because of the additional study time. Freshman writing seminars and Woodrow Wilson School junior year task forces are assigned randomly to the fall or spring semester, and are examples of random disparities in student’s current academic experiences. Reforming the calendar would alleviate these problems, creating parity between the semesters and eliminating imbalances in course difficulty across terms. In addition, all students currently face anxiety over winter break due to the anticipation of January finals. Moving finals to before winter break would diminish this stressed period, and improve overall student mental health.

In addition to ensuring academic fairness and improving student mental health, moving finals before winter break would have several social benefits. In November and December, students are often less engaged  in their classwork because they expect to study over winter break and January. Further, students, particularly freshmen, often find their fall semester socially disruptive due to the amount of time on and off campus. A reformed calendar would allow for increased student engagement in precepts towards the end of the fall semester, and for the formation of richer friendships. In addition, Princeton’s current calendar makes it challenging for students to study abroad in the spring at universities that begin in January.

Beyond a revised final exam schedule, the proposed calendar offers many other improvements. The non-credit Wintersession gives the opportunity for interested students to learn supplemental material. Popular suggestions have already been made for short workshops in R, Python, or digital media. Further, Princeton’s new calendar would align it closer to most other American universities. While on break, students are often unable to see high school friends due to differently timed schedules. Reforming the calendar would move up each semester by one week, allowing students to maintain old friendships, and possibly travel together for spring break.

We propose one alteration to the current calendar: moving the start date of the academic calendar to the last week of August instead of early September. The proposed calendar only allows one week for final exams, thus diminishing study time for students and increasing student stress. In addition to shortening winter break to four weeks, our proposal would allow both first and second semester to continue with a much-needed two-week final exam period.

The Board, in agreement with student public opinion on the topic, recognizes the need for calendar reform and is glad to see the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations. Moving finals before winter break, creating a Wintersession, and starting the academic calendar of both semesters one week earlier are important changes with the potential to improve future Princeton students’ experiences. In addition, we propose that moving the start of classes to the end of August and making winter break four weeks rather than five would allow the University to maintain the current two-week-long final exams period, and ease student stress. The Board looks forward to seeing the definitive submission of the Ad Hoc Committee’s proposal to the Faculty Advisory Board in March, and hopes to see Princeton students benefit in years to come.

Join the Princeton Editorial Board

Last September, 12 undergraduate students, representing the majority of the members of the dissolved Daily Princetonian Editorial Board, founded a new campus organization called the Princeton Editorial Board. Since then, the Board has added three new members to our ranks and met biweekly to discuss and write joint opinion pieces about campus affairs, ranging from Lawnparties to language courses to study abroad. We weighed in on campus controversies including the Honor Code referenda, Tzipi Hotovely’s lecture, and the University’s handling of the Professor Verdú sexual misconduct case. We also interviewed in person all three candidates for USG President and endorsed current President Rachel Yee.

We determined our stances for each of these editorials through rigorous and thoughtful debate at our biweekly meetings. The Board prides itself on including students representing a broad cross-section of campus experiences and opinions. Our members include liberals and conservatives; engineers and humanities majors; athletes, debaters and singers; bicker club members, sign-in club members, and independent students; and students from all four class years. The diversity of opinions and campus experiences among our members is crucial to informing our discussions. To that end, we seek applications for new members from undergraduates of any background who are passionate about writing, open discourse, and contributing to campus dialogue. In this editorial, we will briefly explain how the Board functions on a regular basis as well as discuss the application process.

The Princeton Editorial Board meets twice a week to decide the topic of our next editorial. Members propose topics related to current campus controversies or ongoing areas for improvement at the University, so it is important that members stay informed about campus events and University policy. Once a majority of the Board agrees we are interested in writing about a particular topic, we debate it thoroughly to recommend solutions for policy issues or to articulate a stance on a controversial issue. While the Board strives to reach unanimous agreement for each of our editorials, members who disagree with a particular editorial are able to write a dissent that appears below the majority opinion. This reflects the Board’s strong commitment to open debate and viewpoint diversity. Once the Board decides its stance for an editorial, one member volunteers to be the lead writer for the piece. All members participate in editing and revising each editorial using Google Docs. Accordingly, strong writing and editing skills are a must for Board members. Completed editorials are published biweekly on our website and Facebook page.  

The process for joining the Board enables applicants to showcase their abilities to generate interesting editorial ideas and to communicate their views in-person and through writing. The written application may be found here; it is due via email to the Board’s Chair, Cole Campbell, at colec@princeton.edu by 11:59pm on Wednesday, February 21. Applicants will also interview with the Board’s current members. As always, the Board will evaluate the quality of applications on the basis of how well applicants argue ideas, not the conclusions they reach. We encourage you to reach out to any of our current members if you have any questions and look forward to reading your application!  

A Call for Increased Transparency and Responsiveness from USG and Administrators

Yesterday, the Undergraduate Student Government announced that all four referenda to amend Princeton’s Honor Constitution had passed by wide margins. The election saw unprecedented turnout, with 64% of the student body voting on the referenda. This high turnout was likely driven in part by the binding nature of the referenda; amendments will now immediately be made to the Honor Constitution. This is unique in contrast with the typical USG referendum that is unbinding and generally constitutes calling for USG to investigate a matter, rather than to make immediate changes. Given this, the Board would like to offer a timely suggestion to USG and administrators concerning the procedure of typical Princeton referenda and reform.

We praise USG for frequently appealing to the student body to gauge the school’s stance on pivotal issues, but we are critical of the lethargy with which school legislators approach the implementation of referendum-approved policies. As such, the Board advocates increased transparency in the months following referenda and school reform surveys so that the student body knows the state of the proposed changes. While we acknowledge the need to coordinate with administrative and faculty partners can slow down USG’s response, the student body should still be updated on the progress of the reforms they approve. The Winter 2016 eating club demographic collection referendum and the March 2016 calendar reform survey are particularly illustrative of this troubling lack of transparency, while the Spring 2016 prison divestment referendum highlights the downsides of not being responsive to student expressions of opinion.

In the winter of 2016, the student body voted on a referendum calling upon USG to work with the Interclub Council to have eating clubs collect and release demographic information like race, gender, and academic major about its members and bickerees. The referendum passed overwhelmingly, with nearly 70% support. But a year later the motion seems to have fully dissolved; two, nearly three, rounds of bicker and sign-in have come and gone. While a committee has been appointed to consider the eating clubs, this committee will expressly not deal with the collection of eating club demographics. The student body at large has heard little about USG’s progress on this matter since last December. As Leila Clark, the referendum’s sponsor, explained in a October 2017 Prince op-ed, USG initially voiced their support for the referendum’s suggestion, but then grew frustratingly elusive in the months that followed.

In March 2016, USG partnered with the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School, and the Graduate School Government to administer a student survey regarding proposed calendar reform which would move fall finals to before winter recess. A staggering 72% of 2,580 votes supported the reform, finding that looming exams added stress to their holiday breaks. Following this, in October 2016, a University Task Force on General Education released six recommendations, including one that would move finals to before winter recess. While an Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform has been working since May 2017 to implement the calendar change, the student body remains woefully uninformed about what progress has been made. The only subsequent public discussion of the Committee's work has been one report it made to USG in November. While The Daily Princetonian reported on this update, progress on change of such great interest to the student body should be reported directly and regularly to students.

Given the opaque response to past referenda, the Princeton student body has lost some of its enthusiasm for supporting reforms to its community. In the spring of 2016, for example, the student body voted on a referendum to divest from private prisons and detention corporations, which profit from incarceration and immigrant-deportation. The referendum enjoyed a overwhelming majority: 89%. But still the referendum did not pass, because only a small proportion of the student body came out to vote on it - more than the 30% of the student body that must vote on a referendum for the vote to count. Should we be surprised by the low turnout? Probably not: most referenda have no inherent power. They are simply gauges of student opinion; the power falls entirely to USG and the University administration to decide whether to act on that opinion. In theory, this is a reasonable, even necessary procedure for implementing reform. Ideally, our student and faculty leaders would approach the proposed reforms with energy and transparency, making steady progress and keeping us informed on the state of the referendums.

But as experience has shown, USG and the University administration can be slow-moving and elusive when it comes to implementing pivotal reforms that enjoy overwhelming support from the student body. What is at stake here is not individual reforms and stances on them—indeed, it is worth noting that while the Board supported the winter break calendar reform, it did not support the eating club demographic referendum—but rather the very mechanisms by which we effect change at this school. If the reforms students are collectively excited about continue to disappear in the bowels of USG and administrative bureaucracy, rarely to be discussed again, then students will become less and less engaged with school reform. As the prison divestment referendum highlighted, this will be a fatal blow to our voice as a student body. The Board, therefore, calls on USG and the University administration to be transparent and aboveboard about their progress on all reforms proven, by survey or referendum, to enjoy the popular support of the school. This means periodic updates, published benchmarks, and candid notification when reforms seem unlikely to be implemented. The Board understands that not all student-approved reforms can feasibly be implemented in practice, but the student body still deserves to be updated on any attempts, even if unsuccessful, to do so.

We accordingly cannot emphasize enough the importance of USG and administrative responsiveness to student-approved reforms, as well as transparency about the status of their response.

Rachel Glenn ‘19 and Carolyn Liziewski ‘18 recused themselves from the writing of this editorial.

Yee for President

Voting for the Undergraduate Student Government’s Winter Elections will be held between Tuesday the 12th and Thursday the 14th. Following in the tradition of the former Daily Princetonian Editorial Board, the Princeton Editorial Board has interviewed the three candidates running for USG President this year: Matt Miller ’19, Ryan Ozminkowski ’19, and Rachel Yee ’19. After carefully considering their platforms and experiences, we are endorsing Yee, with Miller as our second choice candidate. Should no candidate win a majority of the votes cast in this week’s election, a runoff election will take place from Saturday the 16th through Monday the 18th at the start of winter break.  As such, we encourage all students to have an opinion on their first and second choices for President and to be sure to vote in the runoff election should one be necessary. In making our decision to endorse Yee for President, we considered the candidates’ plans, their past experience, and their ability to represent the entire student body while effectively implementing the goals of their platform. We believe that Yee has the most promise in each of these key areas.

This is the second year that Rachel Yee is running for USG President, and the second year that the Board has endorsed her for President. Her platform reflects issues that are important at this moment on campus and impact students greatly. Yee’s platform is in large part focused on mental health. We believe her emphasis on mental health is appropriate and necessary given mental health’s importance in student life on campus. Her platform is also impressively detailed and focused in this area. Yee offers innovative solutions, proposing adding satellite CPS offices (with additional CPS staff) in residential colleges, as well as office hours for CPS in the LGBT Center, Carl A. Fields Center, Davis International Center, Jadwin, and E-Quad. Yee proposed these ideas in her previous campaign and has carried over her focus on mental health throughout the past year. Since last year’s election, she has furthered her commitment to this area, for example serving as Princeton’s Head Delegate to the Ivy Mental Health Conference and coordinating a Summer Soiree Benefit for Mental Health. Yee’s continued focus on and dedication to this matter reflect both the seriousness of the issue and the persistence of problems regarding mental health on campus. We believe Yee offers the best platform to address this pressing concern.

In addition, Yee has offered ideas and plans to revamp USG’s communications, improve freshman advising, implement a midterm feedback system for professors, establish a loan-free textbook program, better train new USG members, and improve the housing and living situation for independent students. These are good ideas that the Board would also like to see implemented on campus during a Yee presidency.

Yee moreover has the operational know-how to get the job done. In choosing a candidate for USG President, it is important to consider not only the quality of the candidate’s platform but also the candidate’s ability to accomplish the goals of his or her platform. Yee’s platform details the specific University offices with which she plans to work to accomplish her goals. She correctly does not view USG as a body that acts alone and understands the necessity of leveraging personal relationships with University staff and administrators to make changes on behalf of the student body. We are particularly impressed by the thorough “Monthly Breakdown” Yee created for the Game Plan section of her website, which details the careful thinking she has done to prepare herself for serving as USG President. This demonstrates that Yee understands the role of USG President and the time commitment necessary to do a good job for the student body. She is therefore well-positioned to implement the goals on her platform and to effect positive change for the Princeton community.

The Board was also very impressed with Matt Miller, which is why he is our second choice candidate for President. His platform exhibits perhaps the greatest breadth of all three candidates. While platforms that have such breadth often seem unfeasible to implement, Miller’s platform includes very reasonable proposals that we believe he would be able to implement if elected President. He details a plan to have a library or student center open 24 hours, which is a change the student body has often requested. Miller also proposes establishing bus services to airports from Princeton during key travel times before breaks. He would expand on USG’s existing program to offer bus services before Thanksgiving that take students to major cities in the Mid-Atlantic. This is a very popular program, and it would make sense to add airport shuttles as well and to offer this service before more breaks. Miller also advocates expanding the McGraw tutoring program to include daily language class sessions, as well as sessions for other subjects if there is enough student interest. Finally, one of Miller’s main proposals is a detailed one to host better acts for Lawnparties. He believes that selecting up-and-coming artists would improve Lawnparties and generate greater student interest in the event. These are just a few of many ideas on Miller’s platform that are both feasible to implement and would directly improve student life on campus.

In addition, Miller demonstrated that he has the attitude and dedication to represent the student body well. He is is a former student athlete who already has USG experience. Accordingly, we encourage students to consider Miller as their second choice candidate and to vote for him in the runoff election should Yee not advance to the second round of voting.  

We encourage all students to vote online in the many races and referenda starting tomorrow. We endorse Rachel Yee for President, with Matt Miller as our second choice.