In light of recent coverage of the administration’s decision to eliminate the overnight component of Princeton Preview and shorten it to two one-day events, I think it’s necessary we remind ourselves of the framework in which this decision was made. Even though we at Princeton love to joke about and downplay the importance of the meningitis outbreak, in reality it’s a serious enough issue to warrant this decision.
This is not to say that the decision isn’t unfortunate — just that it’s not unwise. Drawing parallels to the geographic bias of Tiger Tuesday, I do think that we’ll see fewer people commit to Princeton for the Class of 2018 from the West, from abroad, etc. this year as it is completely logical not to want to commit to a place you’ve never visited. Concern over the overall yield is therefore warranted as well.
However, even if the yield and the admissions rate are the administration’s top goals regarding future classes, this decision is a safe one. Operating much like insurance, the policy change for this year acts as a safety net and cushions against a massive drop in the yield were — God forbid — something terrible to happen. Princeton is wise, deciding against hosting an overnight Preview while meningitis is still a significant concern and possibly having the worst happen: A visiting student dies or becomes gravely ill. That would be the nightmare scenario, and again, from the perspective of yield, would decimate Princeton’s ability to get accepted students to say yes and commit for the next several years.
But obviously there is more than just the yield perspective to consider. Whether one views it as cynical liability-minimization or morally-driven concerns for visitor safety, the University is also clearly trying to minimize the risk to visiting students for their sake. It would be selfish to allow unvaccinated students to visit in droves and stay in hosts’ dorms, while — given the recent and tragic death of a Drexel student who contracted meningitis after contact with Princeton students — putting their health in legitimate risk, all to get more people to commit to Princeton. This is especially true considering that while the herd-immunity threshold was met by the eligible population, a significant swath of the Princeton community was not eligible to be vaccinated in the first place.
While the administration appears to have decided not to disallow the Informal Student Hosting group started through Facebook, I don’t see this as evidence that they were motivated exclusively by liability-minimization. Given that the stated goal of the group is explicitly not to “plan our own Preview,” it is simply unfeasible to forbid students from offering to host prospective student visitors, without commensurately banning students from hosting any out-of-town visitors at all. Had the administration wanted to protect visitor safety to the degree that they would disallow this initiative, they would have had to forbid prospective students from staying on campus overnight entirely, which seems both unfeasible and drastic (given they’ve not similarly banned all visitors in the past few months, when meningitis was of equal or greater concern). So while it does have the added benefit of minimizing liability to the University administration in case something does happen to a visiting prospective student, I don’t think this was necessarily the only or the principal motivating factor behind the decision to allow students to informally host prefrosh.
So in short, while I, like most people, am upset about the decision to shorten Preview, I think that while unfortunate, it was not unwise or unwarranted. My point here is not that we shouldn’t feel upset about the shortened Preview, but that we shouldn’t conflate that disappointment with a sense that something wrong was done.
Ryan Dukeman is a freshman from Westwood, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.