Legacies of Injustice

Alumni preferences threaten educational equity--and no one seems to care.

College-bound high school students do not always lose their chastity before graduation, but they certainly lose their innocence. Nearly every senior who has gone through the admissions mill can recount stories of peers with outstanding academic records—class valedictorians with stellar SATs and perfect GPAs—who were passed over by top colleges while others with far more modest credentials got the nod. The New York Times reports that Harvard turned down 1,100 applicants with perfect 800s on the math SAT this year. Yale rejected several with perfect 2400s on the three-part SAT exam. Princeton said no to thousands with 4.0 GPAs.

To many frustrated parents, one word de-scribes the admissions process at America’s elite universities: arbitrary. But that’s not the word admissions officials use, as I discovered two summers ago when I toured a dozen or so East Coast campuses with my son, a high school junior at the time. Asked what kind of grades and scores made kids competitive for their schools, officials in university after university insisted, as if reading off the same memo, that the review process was “holistic,” “comprehensive,” or “individualized.” Grades, we were repeatedly told, “are only one among many factors we consider.”

Another such factor is race. Nearly every selective college, public and private, gives a sizable edge to underrepresented minorities. Before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions criteria in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), the school relied on a complicated rating system that awarded points for several personal and academic factors, including skin color. Black and Hispanic candidates automatically got 20 points. A great essay counted for only one point; a perfect SAT score, a mere 12.

But as Justice Clarence Thomas observed in his dissent in a companion case, race is not the only factor that distorts college admission decisions. “The entire [college admission] process is poisoned by numerous exceptions to ‘merit,’ ” he noted.

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Golden exposes those other exceptions in his 2006 book The Price of Admission. Golden shows that elite schools routinely hand preferences to athletes; to the children of faculty, celebrities, and politicians; to “development cases” whose fabulously wealthy parents offer hefty donations up front; and, above all, to the offspring of alumni. Universities expect the parents of these “legacy” candidates to contribute to their coffers after their children are admitted.

Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, told Golden that at one Ivy League school only 40 percent of the seats are open to candidates competing on pure educational merit. According to a 2005 study by the Princeton sociologists Tom Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung, in 1997 nearly two-thirds of all these non-race-based preferences at elite universities benefited whites, even though whites comprised less than half of all applicants that year.

We have a vigorous national movement to eradicate racial or minority preferences, at least in public universities. In 2006 Michigan became the third state in the country after California and Washington to approve a ballot measure imposing a constitutional ban on the use of race in admissions at state-run schools and in government hiring decisions. And this year the author of all those bans—Ward Connerly, a black California businessman—is stepping up his crusade. He has launched petition drives in Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, and Arizona to put similar measures before voters in November.

But there’s no comparable effort to get rid of legacy preferences. Even more troubling, many prominent opponents of racial preferences greet suggestions to get rid of legacies, the mother of all preferences, with a perfunctory nod—or a gaping yawn.

It shouldn’t be that way. Legacy preferences are the original sin of admissions, the policy that fundamentally compromises fair, merit-based standards. Universities can’t in good conscience tip the admission scales for the more privileged and then ask the less privileged to compete solely on merit. What’s more, eliminating race while keeping legacies will make the admissions process less fair, not more fair, because it will open up minority slots to competition by whites but not vice versa.

Legacy preferences are an especially terrible idea for tax-supported public universities, since they make it possible for rich, white, and less qualified kids to take seats that are at least in part supported by the tax dollars of poor, minority families. Private schools, of course, should be free to admit whomever they want, and it is therefore tempting to ignore their use of legacies. But there are few genuinely private schools in America anymore, thanks to the enormous amount of federal funding they accept. And setting public policy aside: Just as a matter of propriety, should there be room for legacies at institutions that market themselves as bastions of meritocracy? The use of legacies by the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons of the world dilutes the standards of excellence they pretend not merely to uphold, but to embody.

Who Cares About Legacies?
With only a few exceptions, both the right and the left have ignored legacy preferences. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has promised to do everything in his power to end legacy admissions if he becomes president. But for the most part liberals have picked up the anti-legacy mantle only in retaliation against efforts to eliminate racial preferences. Local activists forced Texas A&M and the University of Georgia to abandon legacy preferences, for example, after these universities stopped using race in admissions. Otherwise, liberals seem quite willing to tolerate legacies, presumably because they make it easier to advocate countervailing preferences for their favored groups.

Given that dynamic, you might expect the opponents of racial preferences to go on the offensive against legacy preferences. But if liberals have been opportunistic about legacies, conservatives have been paralyzed.

In part, that’s because they’re genuinely divided on the issue. Ward Connerly, like Justice Thomas, regards legacies as a fundamental violation of a fair, merit-based standard. He prodded the University of California, where he is a regent, to abandon them in 2000, four years after California voters banned racial preferences. But Terry Pell, who heads the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the outfit that engineered the lawsuit against the University of Michigan’s race-based admissions, has never fought against legacies. Neither has Stephan Thernstrom, who has co-authored several books attacking racial preferences. “Legacy is a far more complicated issue than race,” insists Thernstrom, who once served on Harvard’s admissions committee.

Conservatives in Pell and Thernstrom’s camp argue that racial discrimination is in a class apart, given this country’s history of slavery and segregation. What’s more, they say, legacy preferences are just not as big a problem as racial preferences, quantitatively speaking. Further, they produce huge benefits for universities that racial preferences don’t. Above all, to the extent that legacies are practiced by private rather than public universities, there are no easy or desirable legal cures that aren’t worse than the disease.

The last argument is their most powerful one, but it is hardly grounds for ignoring the issue. There are ways to address the issue of private universities’ legacy preferences—and racial preferences—that don’t involve lawsuits or government action. But the other arguments for why legacies aren’t a public policy problem are simply disingenuous and suffer from the same ideological blind spots that afflict defenders of racial preferences.

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  • ||

    Hummer. Hybrid.

  • ||

    Props to the author for her philosphical consistency.

  • ||

    "...while legacy and athletic preferences offset the effects of racial preferences on whites, they compound them for Asian Americans."

    This is true and there's more. Preferences do not offset but rather compound the effects of racial and other preferences on poor whites as well. Legacy preferences only help whites whose parents went to college.

    This fact reflects another legacy - namely the legacy of the Democrat's ongoing betrayal of poor whites that began in the 60's.

  • Episiarch||

    But how would George Bush, John Kerry, and so on get to go to Yale/Harvard/etc?

    Can't somebody think of the rich children?

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    What I think Ms Dalmia fails to take proper account of is the extent to which the very small number of selective, state supported universities at issue here are de facto privatizing, in significant measure because the states no longer support them, and the extent to which legally private schools rely more and more heavily on public (i.e., tax) funds.

    Whether the latter situation suffices morally to make a case why otherwise "private" schools should act in what is obviously contrary to their financial interests is one thing. But the former, especially where state support constitutes 20% or less of the "public" school's budget, undercuts the notion that equal justice under law somehow demands the elimination of legacy admissions, especially if the net results are, in fact, reduced costs to the taxpayers.

  • ||

    This fact reflects another legacy - namely the legacy of the Democrat's ongoing betrayal of poor whites that began in the 60's.

    Wait, wait,... nope, I still don't see it. Please break it down for me.

  • ||

    Contra NCDan, most upper-tier universities' admissions departments go out of their way to admit poor white people, especially if they come from poor, geographically under-represented areas of the country. A kid from rural West Virginia will leave tire tracks across the back of a kid from Long Island with the same grades and test scores, so that the university can brag about the economic and geographic diversity of its students.

    There is even less of an effort to end this practice than to end legacy admissions. Which is as it should be - diverse campuses are better campuses, across just about all axes.

  • ||

    While I agree that it is distasteful for schools that receive public funds to admit less qualified applicants for what ever reason, how upset are we to get that schools are acting rationally given their circumstances? If they are using a suboptimal admittance strategy, they will stop being top tier schools.

    Also, I hear that people who didn't get into ivy league schools occasionally lead productive, happy lives.

    Gan

  • ||

    Cooper Union is not just an art school - it also has engineering and architecture schools. In fact, its architecture school is one of the most selective in the world (something like 6%, they have like 30 students a year), and the engineering students comprise over half of the ~800 undergrads there.

  • Paul||

    You can tweak racial preferences, you can tweak around with admissions for poor people, you can tweak a lot of stuff, but one thing we all know: don't mess with the money.

    If legacy admissions bring in that much money, it will never change.

  • ||

    This is an excellent article, so naturally I'll only talk about the parts I don't agree with. "Private" colleges and universities are non-profit corporations, that is, "artificial persons" who owe their existence to the state. The laws defining what a non-profit (or a profit) can or cannot do are entirely at the discretion of the state legislature. Not many people would argue that Harvard has, or should have, the "right" to exclude blacks or Jews. The state of Massachusetts could set the rules for accepting students used by all educational institutions within its borders if it wanted to, but of course the political pressure against such action would be overwhelming.

    Anyone who is smart and hardworking and comes from a middle-class family can get an excellent education in the U.S. The elite colleges sell status as much as anything else. Enter Harvard and you enter a world of privilege. One of those privileges is getting a leg up to sending your kids to Harvard. If the rules for getting into a prestige university were cut and dried, the mystique would be lost. You'd be smart, but you wouldn't be special.

    The argument against legacy admissions is an excellent stick with which to beat conservatives, who believe that policies that give poor black kids "unfair" assistance are bad but that policies that give rich white kids "unfair" assistance are good. But the liklihood of change is practically nil.

  • ||

    Gan,

    I think the author's point is fraud. Top schools publicly claim to be meritocratic (a reputation for excellence is based on that claim) but they secretly act otherwise. If they disclosed admissions policies, your argument would be strong.

    Viz., if the glossy brochures said: "We take a many top 5% applicants, those few asians with perfect scores, mix in a fat cadre of spolied bluebloods (with President Bush IQs), add some middling athletes who can read and write, and then fill in the gaps with "articulate" upper class minorities and 1 poor white kid from each & every fly-over state (such as West VA). DIVERSITY IS POWER!

  • ||

    LOL, Mr. Grand!

    "And this year's Wyoming admission to Yale is..."

    *rip rip rip*

    "Vern Inglewood! Mr. Inglewood, come up here and say a few words."

  • ||

    Shikha Dalmia, Thank you for an excellent article. I have long railed against legacy admissions.

    One reason is that they extend the results of past discriminative practices. We're not bigots anymore, but the descendants of those who had an undeserved advantage reap the benefits of past immoral practices. Another is who was rejected by Yale so that GW Bush could get a slot? That is just the most famous example that comes to mind. Similar injustices happen with every freshman class in every college/university that gives legacy preferences.

    From the article -

    Legacy preferences, like racial preferences, are repugnant because they reward not individual virtue or accomplishment, but an accident of birth that has no relevance for a college education.

    That's damned tough to argue with.

    Universities claim that legacy status is never a major or decisive factor in their admission decisions. It's only used, they say, as a tie-breaker among otherwise comparable candidates.

    I call bullshit.

    "These are kids who grow up with every privilege," notes Connerly. "They don't deserve any additional advantage."

    Born on third base and think they hit a triple.

    There is something problematic, even oxymoronic, about the very idea of "elite" public univer­sities whose doors are by definition shut to the vast majority of taxpayers who fund them. If they must exist, they should exist to serve academically gifted kids. Thus the only defensible admission policy for these universities is one that allows all gifted kids an equal shot at admission.

    There is this whole equal treatment under the law thingee that needs to be addressed. Just as children are not held responsible for the crimes of their parents, they should not be given credit for the successes of their parents.

    IMHO, if you are against racial preferences you morally should be equally against legacy preferences.

    Sorry for the lenght of the post, but I'm a bit passionate about the issue.

  • ||

    I second J sub D on his call of bullshit for the reasons Paul pointed out above.

  • thoreau||

    DAR makes a good point about how private schools are accepting a lot of public funds and public schools are segueing toward more private revenue sources. Even the more heavily state-supported state schools sometimes have private foundations associated with them to ease the revenue situation.

    On the east coast, for some of the old elite schools the public-private line is even murkier. Some of the departments and programs at Cornell are state-supported and considered part of a public university, while others are considered private. Duke also has some sort of murky relationship with the state, I believe. (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.)

    Invoking public and/or private status won't get you very far in untangling issues in higher education. It's more complicated than that.

  • ||

    J sub D, I'm not going to push this very far because I sympathize with your and the author's points. But, it would be fraud if the Universities advertised a "numbers-based" enrollment process as apposed to the "holistic", blah, blah, policy that thee espouse.

  • ||

    This is a bit misleading.

    The Center for Individual Rights, which Dalmia chides for not opposing legacy preferences, effectively did so in its Supreme Court briefs challenging the University of Michigan racial preferences, as Lars Bader's letter to the editor in the Washington Post noted at the time.

    It argued that under the Supreme Court's "narrow tailoring" requirement for race preferences, those preferences couldn't be used except as a last resort, after race-neutral means of increasing minority admissions -- like getting rid of alumni preferences or legacy preferences -- were first employed.

    If accepted (as it logically should have been), that argument would have resulted in virtually every selective college in America (that wanted to use race even a little) getting rid of its legacy preferences in order to satisfy this requirement.

    CIR made this argument indirectly, of course, because federal law itself doesn't directly outlaw legacy preferences; it only bans racial discrimination.

    (And Title VI and Section 1981 -- the statutes used to challenge university racial preferences -- only forbid intentional racial discrimination, not practices that might have a disparate impact, like legacy preferences, see Alexander v. Sandoval (2001) (Title VI not violated by disparate impact)).

  • ||

    If I went to a particular university and devoted my time, work, money and energy to that school, I'm sorry but my kid should get in over yours (assuming that our kids are otherwise identical). It's called customer loyalty -- we were loyal to a University, and this is one way they demonstrate loyalty to their alumni base. When I send donations to my alma mater, I would be lying if I said I didn't have, to some extent, my children in mind when writing the checks. Money can't buy you happiness, but the last time I checked it could buy you an education.

    On a side note, when going through the college application process I was told by a well-known University that they "do not offer merit-based scholarships." My friend and I (who had lower test scores, fewer extracurriculars and a lower GPA) were both accepted. He went, and I did not. Why? Because the school gave him a full scholarship, not because of his merit, not because of his financial inability to pay for tuition, but because... one of his parents was Hispanic.

  • thoreau||

    When I send donations to my alma mater, I would be lying if I said I didn't have, to some extent, my children in mind when writing the checks. Money can't buy you happiness, but the last time I checked it could buy you an education.



    That's a fair point. They're selling a product, and if they want to base access on a sliding scale of academic merit and ability to pay (i.e. less meritorious applicants can pay a higher price and vice versa), rather than treating them as distinct categories (i.e. you must meet the standard criteria AND you must pay the set price), well, fair enough.

    But that would be more about donor preferences than alumni preferences.

  • andy||

    i'm wondering what makes legacies in colleges different than legacies in the real world.

    maybe (private) colleges prefer well-connected individuals in their ranks for the same reasons businesses do and they're willing to overlook academia when bill clinton is their daddy. i'm not gonna lie: i've gotten every job i've ever had because i've had a friend working at the company.

    you can fix legacy preferences in colleges, but i'm just wondering what good it will do if the rest of the world doesn't - or is incapable to - operate without preferences.

    meritocracy's reward hard workers and that's great, but they assume that hard work is all that matters to people.

  • andy||

    so many grammar errors... but let me self-correct "meritocracies."

  • robc||

    Not many people would argue that Harvard has, or should have, the "right" to exclude blacks or Jews.

    Just because there arent many of those people doesnt mean that that small number of people arent correct.

  • ||

    Both legacies and racial preferences serve the ends of colleges by reinforcing the delusion that getting into a better school equals having a better life. Unjust as they are, the first solution is for us to question the basic assumptions behind elite institutions and ask how much of the quality of their grads is a product of the institutions rather than of the students themselves.

    Let's start with the law students who found themselves at Harvard Law (et al.) after Katrina. What effect did accidentally getting into an elite school have on them? Pity we can't have a matching group of Ivy League students sent to a forth tier school. It would be amusing to see them excel.

  • ||

    "But that break ought to only involve lower tuition fees, not lower standards."

    Good article generally, but with respect to in-state vs out-of-state students, here's the problem at Michigan. The university commits to the legislature to a particular percentage of in-state students. Yes, the U could charge more tuition and get somewhat higher SAT scores if it admitted more out-of-state students, BUT then the Michigan legislature would cut its funding (and reasonably so -- if the tax dollars aren't paying to educate in-state students, why should the legislature pay up?)

    From time to time, there have been discussions of Michigan going semi-private -- accepting no funds from the legislature for operating expenses and charging equal in-state and out-of-state tuition, but those discussions have never gone very far.

  • ||

    um.. don't in-state students always pay lower tuition than out-of-staters?

  • Russ 2000||

    The real problem isn't capricious admissions policies, the real problem is the associated grade inflation that puts a meritorious veneer over the capricious admission policies.

  • Russ 2000||

    Is Ms. Dalmia worried that employers are too stupid to understand the bullshit and fall head-over-heels in love with the job applicant with "Harvard" on their resume?

  • ||

    "Let's start with the law students who found themselves at Harvard Law (et al.) after Katrina. What effect did accidentally getting into an elite school have on them? Pity we can't have a matching group of Ivy League students sent to a forth tier school. It would be amusing to see them excel."

    I'm willing to bet GW Bush (a C- student at Yale) doesn't pass at a state school (any state school) if no one knows his Daddy was who is Daddy was. He's that dumb.

  • ||

    Is Ms. Dalmia worried that employers are too stupid to understand the bullshit and fall head-over-heels in love with the job applicant with "Harvard" on their resume?

    As someone with Harvard on my resume, I have the feeling I should be offended.

  • ||

    you can fix legacy preferences in colleges, but i'm just wondering what good it will do if the rest of the world doesn't - or is incapable to - operate without preferences.

    Neptism is supposed to be illegal for government employment. Except in Detroit, of course.

  • Bluto||

    May I remind you all that even delta house put limits on legacy admissions:

    Hoover: Kent is a legacy, Otter. His brother was a '59, Fred Dorfman.
    Flounder: He said legacies usually get asked to pledge automatically.
    Otter: Oh, well, usually. Unless the pledge in question turns out to be a real closet-case.
    Otter, Boon: Like Fred.

  • Fluffy||

    I tend to think legacy admission is inappropriate at public universities, but I think private ones should be able to do what they want.

    I don't think it's appropriate to attempt to impose a single definition of "merit" on private associations.

    After all, look at the example employed by posters here of Bush and Kerry. Exactly how is it sensible for an admissions board to not admit a future President of the United States and a future Senator from Massachusetts? I'm sure in any given year every college makes a few bad bets and admits some deadbeats. How can we possibly argue that admitting a future President of the United States is one of the errors?

    What I personally think of Bush isn't relevant. Whether he got to the Presidency based on family connections is irrelevant. What's relevant is that you're asking an admissions board to not admit a future President of the United States on your say-so about who they should admit.

    Harvard and Yale aren't selling the claim that they admit the "best" students. Harvard and Yale are selling the claim that if you go there, you will be surrounded by the people who will run the country. So far they don't seem to be lying.

  • robc||

    How can we possibly argue that admitting a future President of the United States is one of the errors?

    My alma mater admitted Jimmy Carter. However, we sent him packing to the Naval Academy after one year.

  • ||

    The biggest myth is that race and ethnic background lend greater "diversity" and "cultural richness" to the campus environment. A U.C. racial minorities are sometimes admitted to an academic environment whose standard are too high for them, and they struggle to keep up. The have little time and energy to contribute to that mythical abstraction called "diversity."

  • ||

    I shouldn't talk, I guess. My alma mater graduated Dondero. But, maybe they were trying to reach their molesterstache quota.

  • alisa||

    Great article. Dalmia is right to make the point that those who criticize racial preferences should be equally critical of legacies.

    From my experience, though, affirmative action doesn't work quite the same way in practice that some folks think. Minorities at my (fancy schmancy) alma mater weren't at all "struggling to keep up." For the most part they went to excellent high schools (either because they're affluent or because of programs like Prep for Prep). A surprisingly large number of the "black" students were Africans or children of African immigrants. So, as an engine of social mobility, affirmative action doesn't work so well; but by the same token I also don't think it's letting in a flood of underqualified students.

  • ||

    How can we possibly argue that admitting a future President of the United States is one of the errors?

    When that future President of the United States is George W. Bush, how can we possibly deny it is one of their errors?

    Nuculer.

  • Jennifer||

    How the hell did Harvard know, way back in the 60s, that George W. Bush was going to be president?

  • Dick Clark||

    Baloney. Virtually every school, public and private, puts a legacy applicant's file at the top of the stack. And why not? If private patrons wish to subsidize their alma mater, stay involved, and essentially buy preferential treatment, doesn't this leave the possibility of saving tax money in end?

    Consider also that it just may be the case that standardized test scores are attempts to put a number on personal attributes that can't be described very well in such terms. Seeing that an applicant was reared by a parent who previously succeeded in that educational setting offers at least a reasonable belief that an otherwise borderline applicant may fit the mold after all.

    Let's not worship at the altar of centralized, standardized testing at the expense of a more basic bet on nature and nurture. Individual schools are unique entities, and I think it is a pretty good bet that there are widely varying schools that sit right next to each other in terms of admissions demographics. Information, like legacy status, give admissions officers some much-needed "real world" data with which to better make admissions selections. Finding a good fit for a particular school is more important than a one-size-fits-all, egalitarian admissions policy that has the force of law.

    Rather than bailing out the Titanic, libertarians should fight to privatize public universities. Transferring control of public universities to non-profit foundations for administration and development would be one fiscally responsible escape that would allow us to avoid the socialist calculation problem altogether. Simply implementing some "more libertarian" centrally-planned admissions standard is not going to fix Socialist U. Once we move schools to a private, competitive environment, we can allow the experts in the market to experiment and devise the best admissions policies for their individual enterprises.

  • Daithi||

    I just found this site and this was the first article I happened to read. I am in absolute 100% agreement with the author. Colleges should base entrance on merit and they should disclose their admissions policies.

    BTW, I once worked as a software engineer for a company were all the top level MBA managers were graduates of Stanford. If you didn't graduate from Standford you get hired. Therefore, legacy graduates received another benefit over commoners.

  • ||

    "while 77 percent of minorities had standardized test scores below the institutional average, about 48 percent of legacies did. In rare exceptions, such as Middlebury College, legacies actually scored higher than the institutional average."

    Uhh - if 48% of legacies scored less than average, then 52% scored higher than average. It's not a rare exception when it is the rule.

  • Michael Ejercito||


    One reason is that they extend the results of past discriminative practices. We're not bigots anymore, but the descendants of those who had an undeserved advantage reap the benefits of past immoral practices.


    Does this reasoning extend to legacy admissions in historically-black universities?

  • ||

    so this "libertarian" author doesn't like practices of private insitutions in a free society...hmmm..ok...so?...if they don't change their ways what is the author going to do about it?...probably,evetually.. resort to the state.....she should probably start rereading libertarian philosophy

  • ||

    "Uhh - if 48% of legacies scored less than average, then 52% scored higher than average. It's not a rare exception when it is the rule."

    I assumed 5% (or more) of the legacies earned the average score, meaning 47% of 'em [or less] scored above aver.

  • ||

    IMHO, if you are against racial preferences you morally should be equally against legacy preferences.

    Sorry for the lenght of the post, but I'm a bit passionate about the issue.


    JsD, Excellent post. I agree 100%, and I am also passionate about the issue. The very idea that GWB pushed a deserving, but not connected kid to the curb just makes my blood boil.

    The only "diversity" that produces "strength" is that produced by the diverse thinking of the best minds.

  • ||

    How can we possibly argue that admitting a future President of the United States is one of the errors?


    How can you possibly argue that a college admissions board knows who will win the presidency twenty years hence?

    All you are saying is, "Colleges should be allowed to select connected kids because they are connected." How is that any different than saying, "Colleges should be allowed to select (black, white, blonde, brunett, whatever; take your pick) kids because they are ...."?

    If your point is that private colleges should be allowed to select on whatever criteria they choose, that is cool with me, but they should not receive a dime of tax-payer's money.

  • Mad Max||

    Legacy admissions can be defended in private colleges (and in public colleges with stingy legislatures). If you're relying on alumni contributions, it would be nice to offer the alumni some reasons to contribute.

    Colleges ask for money from alumni on the basis of "loyalty" (hence the term "loyalty fund"). But as I see it, loyalty is a two-way street. If the college gives no special consideration to the alumni, why should the alumni give special consideration to the college? If Swank U were to tomorrow tell its rich alums that it won't give any special consideration to alumni kids, then the alums could reply - "We applaud your commitment to social justice! And to match your commitment, we're taking the money we were going to donate to you, and we'll give it to the United Negro College Fund instead."

  • ||

    How is rewarding a high school senior whose parents attended the same college they're applying to "social justice"? Especially if they're applying to the overall majority of schools that are partly funded by (of course their, and) other people's tax dollars? Buying your son or daughter's acceptance into a university does not sound like a proud moment to me. I did not go to college so I could be surrounded by the results of Mom and Dad's (however well-intentioned) donations. This article is one of the most consistent, logical reads I've found on this site.

  • ||

    A kid from rural West Virginia will leave tire tracks across the back of a kid from Long Island with the same grades and test scores, so that the university can brag about the economic and geographic diversity of its students.

    Tire tracks is a bit much. The advantage exists, but the size is considerably smaller than the racial or legacy advantages, as demonstrated in various studies. (Enough so that if the kid from Long Island is very wealthy but black, he will have a big advantage over the poor rural white.)

    Here's another call for ending legacies at public universities by North Carolina's libertarian/conservative Pope Center, linked off of a National Review blog today.

  • ||

    "artificial persons" who owe their existence to the state.

    Uh, all corporations are 'artificial persons' -- just try collecting a debt owned by a bankrupt corporation from its board or stock-holders and you'll quickly realize that. And of course all corporations are regulated by the state, as they are creations of the state.

    As to the article -- I see ethnic resentment first and foremost. For private universities especially, it seems to me sensible that they should be able to reward those who have helped build the institution, even if only by studying there. Indeed, I think it is ridiculous that WASPs are now a minority at the great universities their cultural and biological ancestors built -- and I speak as a non-WASP.

    Shikha Dalmia obviously wants her offspring to free-ride on all those centuries of social capital built up by people not of her ethnic group. If she was really a go-getter, she would get her group - I am guessing Indian - together and start their own university, like we catholics did with Georgetown, Notre Dame etc and Americans Jews did with Brandeis.

  • ||

    How the hell did Harvard know, way back in the 60s, that George W. Bush was going to be president?

    Because the Illuminati had marked him at while he was a Bonesman.

  • ||

    You can't be 'hurt' by a benefactor giving something to another person, whatever the reason. You still have everything you had before that transaction. The issue here is that people consider their admission to a University by trying to find a cash value for it. As Nietzche predicted:

    "We have now an opportunity of watching the manifold growth of the culture of a society of which commerce is the soul, just as personal rivalry was the soul of culture among the ancient Greeks, and war, conquest, and law among the ancient Romans. The tradesman is able to value everything without producing it, and to value it according to the requirements of the consumer rather than his own personal needs. "How many and what class of people will consume this?" is his question of questions. Hence, he instinctively and incessantly employs this mode of valuation and applies it to everything, including the productions of art and science, and of thinkers, scholars, artists, statesmen, nations, political parties, and even entire ages: with respect to everything produced or created he inquires into the supply and demand in order to estimate for himself the value of a thing. This, when once it has been made the principle of an entire culture, worked out to its most minute and subtle details, and imposed upon every kind of will and knowledge, this is what you men of the coming century will be proud of, -- if the prophets of the commercial classes are right in putting that century into your possession! But I have little belief in these prophets. Credat Judaeus Apella -- to speak with Horace."

    Going to a University is not about maximizing the net money you receive based on having attended it. The university system predates capitalism, and therefore was only later shaped by it's method of evaluating utility. Universities see themselves as places to further human knowledge. Universities need donations of cash to do this. A good way to encourage donations is to have legacy admissions. The best and the brightest very often get an opportunity to attend any college because some rich moron is paying both their own and several other peoples worth of tuition. So to say it is unjust is simply someone crying over nothing.

  • ||

    The article makes some very good points against both legacy- and race-based admissions. But I don't see why she lumps athletes together with minorities or legacy admissions.

    The author writes that "America's fundamental promise is that individuals ought to control their destiny through hard work and talent, not arbitrary accidents of birth."

    Don't great athletes get where they are through "hard work and talent" (in other words--merit)?

    It's one thing to say that nonmerit-based factors shouldn't count in admissions. It's another thing entirely to say that nothing but grades and SAT scores can determine a person's merit.

  • economist||

    I have no problem with a 100% privately funded college giving special privilege in admissions to children of alumni. That said, the only college to fit that description is Bob Jones University. Therefore, they are arbitrary and I'm against them. However, I have no problem with colleges, even publicly funded ones, giving admission preference to the children of donors, provided the value of the donation exceeds the net costs incurred by the college in educating their kids.

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  • Milan Moravec||

    Sorry Tale of UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office: easily grasped by the public, lost on University of California’s President Yudof. The UC Berkley budget gap has grown to $150 million, & still the Chancellor is spending money that isn't there on $3,000,000 consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the consultants "thinking, expertise, & new knowledge".
    Does this mean that the faculty & management of UC Berkeley – flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world - lack the knowledge, integrity, impartiality, innovation, skills to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from faculty interviews & the senior management that hired them; yet $ 150 million of inefficiencies and solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor & Provost Breslauer were doing the work of their jobs (This simple point is lost on UC’s leadership).
    The victims of this folly are Faculty and Students. $ 3 million consultant fees would be far better spent on students & faculty.
    There can be only one conclusion as to why inefficiencies & solutions have not been forthcoming from faculty & staff: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility & the trust of the faculty & Academic Senate leadership (C. Kutz, F. Doyle). Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants' recommendations - disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy - the underlying problem of lost credibility & trust will remain. (Context: greatest recession in modern times)
    Contact your representatives in Sacramento: tell them of the hefty self-serving $’s being spent by UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer.
    Let there be light!

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