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NY Times Op-Ed: Dump Legacy Preference

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Replies to: NY Times Op-Ed: Dump Legacy Preference

  • CanuckguyCanuckguy Registered User Posts: 1,147 Senior Member
    Folks may find these articles from the other side of the pond interesting:

    George Lineker fails to get into university (but dad Gary insists school is to blame) | Mail Online

    How Euan Blair got into Yale | News & Politics | News & Comment | The First Post

    Since I lived almost all my life in the British Commonwealth, I can smell previlege a mile away.

    I think the US has a more entrenched plutocracy than Britain does, and I never thought I would ever see this day.
  • standrewsstandrews Registered User Posts: 1,365 Senior Member
    I think the perception of the problem is exaggerated by the feeling that applicants or parents of applicants believe that being denied admission is because some undeserving legacy took their spot. Take a highly competitive school that has a freshman class of 1000 and which admits 2000 out of a pool of 15,000 applicants. If 5% of those admitted are undeserving legacies, that comes to 100 students. Yet there are probably 1000 highly qualified applicants who feel slighted by the admissions committee. If legacy preference were eliminated 900 would still feel slighted, except they would no longer be able to blame a legacy admission policy for their plight.

    So who exactly is the victim of legacy preference? I would suggest that there are far more who think the are victims than actually are. The increasing diversity on most college campuses would suggest that it is not URMs who are being denied by legacy admits. Who is it that is getting squeezed? It would have to be highly qualified non-legacy, non-URMs, would it not? How then does the university make room for more of these highly qualified applicants? Eliminating legacy preference is one method. Another method would be to eliminate minority preferences. If the concern is for the pool of highly qualified applicants that are being denied, both methods should be acceptable. So who decides how the interests of all these subsets of applicants should be weighed in the admissions process? Mr. Kahlenberg or the colleges and universities? It has to be the schools. They are fully capable to taking Mr. Kahlenberg's opinion and the comments of others into account when they set goals and standards for their institution.
  • MStockslMStocksl Registered User Posts: 100 Junior Member
    But affirmative action for minorities is just as bad as legacy admissions. Both are getting in just because they happened to be born in the "right" family.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    btwins93 wrote:
    Interesting point is why should they just throw their cash away to help strangers while their own kids get left out?

    LOL. Reminds me of what Chicago's late Mayor Daley (Richard J. Daley, the father, not Richard M. Daley, the son and current mayor) said when asked about reports of rampant patronage and political favoritism in his fair city: "If I can't help my friends and family, who CAN I help?"

    Look, obviously this is different since these are mostly private schools we're talking about, not arms of the state. As I said before, they should be free to admit whomever they want. But if their policies have the effect of reinforcing a self-perpetuating elite based on bloodlines, then I would seriously question whether as a matter of public policy it makes sense to continue to give them public subsidies like tax-deductible status, exemptions from local property taxes, and various forms of federal payments.

    And I really don't understand the argument that says legacy policies don't matter because the legacy admits are all kids who fall within the range of those who get admitted anyway. There are two versions of this argument. On one version, these are the exact same kids who would have been admitted even without a legacy preference; but if that's the case, then we don't NEED the legacy preference, so why retain it?

    The other version of the argument says a legacy preference doesn't harm anyone because legacy admits have the same kinds of stats as non-legacy admits. But that, it seems, misses the point. Admissions is ultimately a zero-sum game; to the extent one group's chances of admission are enhanced by a preference awarded members of that group, everyone else's chances are diminished. Look, suppose the city of New Haven is hiring firefighters and says it will only hire from among those who score at least 85 on a 100-point test; and then it actually hires only those who scored at least 85 and whose fathers were themselves New Haven firefighters. In that case I think most of us would say the hiring policy is unfair to the non-legacy applicants---including, for example, some newcomers to the city whose fathers never even had the opportunity to apply, or those whose fathers would not have passed the physical, or were barred because of racial exclusions of the time, or whatever. Would that unfairness disappear if New Haven applied that discriminatory legacy hiring policy to fill only half the positions, or a third, or a quarter? At what point does it cease to be discriminatory and become benign, or a matter of indifference to the non-favored groups? And does it really matter that New Haven is a public entity, while Yale is "private"? Is Yale really so "private" when it benefits from all sort of tax breaks and public subsidies?

    I'm not saying SAT scores (or New Haven's hypothetical firefighter test) are objective measures of "merit," or that "merit" should be the sole criterion for college admissions. I guess I am saying, with Thomas Jefferson, that hereditary privilege is an evil in itself, because it's antithetical to our democratic ideals of equal opportunity. We can't enforce those ideals on everyone, nor should we try. But I do think it is fair to question the degree to which the public is effectively subsidizing hereditary privilege by lavishing tax subsidies and direct subsidies on institutions that operate on those principles. Now it could be, as some suggest, that this concern is overblown; but I have yet to see hard data that establish that point. I think the colleges should provide it. Perhaps they should be compelled to provide it under Congressional subpoena, and then we can judge for ourselves how great is the legacy preference, and what effect does it have on opportunities for non-legacy applicants. And if the data ultimately do support the claim that it "just doesn't matter," then I'd ask again, "If it REALLY doesn't matter, then why not end it, and end with it the perception that this is a game rigged in favor of a privileged self-perpetuating class?"
  • RedrosesRedroses - Posts: 3,293 Senior Member
    Anyone who has a close look at ivies today would not get the sense that perpetuating an elite group is what's happening.

    Having gone to an ivy and having kids at 2 now, i can attest that there is definitely a dramatically different population at these schools today than 25 years ago. In my day it was overwhelming wealthy prep school kids. Today, my kids have far fewer peers with what most would think are elite backgrounds.

    It will never be perfect, the schools will always need to bring in money and who they accept will have to reflect that. They can stop taking legacies and dramatically up the number of development admits, but there will always need to be a significant group partially chosen for their ability to financially help the school.

    But these schools have gone a long way towards welcoming kids from every walk.
  • HuntHunt Registered User Posts: 26,917 Senior Member
    It seems to me that Harvard isn't taking legacy kids who would otherwise have to go to Podunk U. It might be that if Harvard gave no legacy preference, there might be a few kids who would have to go to Penn or even (shudder) Cornell instead of Harvard. Indeed, if you look at the results threads here on CC, and look at rejected legacies, they typically are accepted by other, very selective schools. So the injustice, if it is one, is really pretty minimal.
  • nbachris2788nbachris2788 Registered User Posts: 4,447 Senior Member
    Legacies DON'T contribute to increased endowments that in turn provide scholarship and grants to poorer student.

    The fifth paragraph of the NYT op-ed clearly addresses this one, and only, moral rationale for legacies. There is no evidence for the oft-repeated but rarely proven idea that legacy admits result in greater donation.

    Without this rationale, what are the reasons for maintaining a policy that was largely concocted to keep the Jews (and other non-WASPs) out? Please do tell.
  • RedrosesRedroses - Posts: 3,293 Senior Member
    How exactly did the NYT get that data? Few schools have tested this and it goes against conventional wisdom.
  • poetgrlpoetgrl Registered User Posts: 13,334 Senior Member
    Look, obviously this is different since these are mostly private schools we're talking about, not arms of the state. As I said before, they should be free to admit whomever they want. But if their policies have the effect of reinforcing a self-perpetuating elite based on bloodlines, then I would seriously question whether as a matter of public policy it makes sense to continue to give them public subsidies like tax-deductible status, exemptions from local property taxes, and various forms of federal payments

    The problem with this type of argument is that taken to it's full conclusion, the fact that the admissions standards at these schools blocks access to the overwhelming majority of children of taxpayers in this country, then that lack of access means they should be denied federal funds. You can't have a selective acceptance institution getting federal funds based on exclusion of ANY citizen. Or, you could just say, well, these institutions aren't really happening for most of the population and we are still giving them money.

    You can't priveledge one form of exclusion or acceptance over another when it comes to federal funding. The argument won't work over the long term. Once the government gets involved in making laws about this, they have to make laws about ALL of it.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    ^ No, I think that's a complete non-sequitur. Look, the IRS pulled Bob Jones University's tax-exempt status because it discriminated against African-Americans, and the Supreme Court upheld the government's right to do that. Tax exemptions aren't a god-given right; they're a public policy measure, essentially a form of public subsidy designed to encourage activities society values.

    In pulling Bob Jones' tax exemption the government never took the position that BJU had to be open enrollment; only that it couldn't get a tax exemption if it discriminated on the basis of race, because that's against public policy. Open enrollment is a completely unrelated concept. I'm not saying elite colleges need to admit everyone---something they obviously couldn't do. I'm saying that if they give admissions preferences based on hereditary privilege, their tax-exempt status should be revoked as against public policy, just as it can be revoked if they discriminate on the basis of race. That's all. That's where the argument ends. There is no "full conclusion" to take that argument to, any more than there was with Bob Jones U and its racial discrimination.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    Hunt wrote:
    It seems to me that Harvard isn't taking legacy kids who would otherwise have to go to Podunk U.

    Again, I think this misses the point. What stinks here is the use of hereditary privilege, not the qualifications of those who are its beneficiaries. It reminds me of the famous line by former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who said of George W. Bush (or was it H.W., the father?), "He was born on third base and thought he got a triple." Same with legacy preferences in admissions. Sure, these candidates MIGHT have been admitted to Harvard without legacy preferences, just as the guy born on third base might have gotten a triple if he had taken an honest at-bat like the rest of us. But if some guy is awarded third base on the basis of stats that suggest he MIGHT get a triple combined with the fact that his father got a triple, that's going to look awfully unfair to the rest of us who actually need to take our at-bat and get a triple to get there.
    It might be that if Harvard gave no legacy preference, there might be a few kids who would have to go to Penn or even (shudder) Cornell instead of Harvard. Indeed, if you look at the results threads here on CC, and look at rejected legacies, they typically are accepted by other, very selective schools.

    That's one of the best arguments I've seen for ending legacy preferences. These kids are getting an unfair advantage that works systematically to the detriment of others who may be equally qualified in all other respects but do not have the same hereditary privilege. AND THEY DON'T EVEN NEED IT because by your own admission they'd end up at elite schools anyway!
    So the injustice, if it is one, is really pretty minimal.

    Another non-sequitur. The injustice, if it is one, is not to the children of hereditary privilege. It is to those who don't bring hereditary privilege to the table. Until we see some better data as to the real difference in admit rates as between legacies and non-legacies, we can't really say how much the non-legacies are disadvantaged in this process. The fact that the elite colleges aren't more forthcoming with this data suggests to me they fear we might not like what we'd see.

    I say all this, by the way, as the father of two children who could claim legacy status at two Ivies (well, two HYP-level Ivies, to be honest), one other top-15 private university, and by all measures one of the nation's top publics, which also uses a legacy preference in admissions. I used to think that was pretty cool. But the more I've thought about it, the more I think it's unfair, unjust, and just profoundly contrary to the principle of equal opportunity which I have always believed to be one the bedrock democratic values we all shared as a nation. Why should my daughters have a leg up in admissions to these schools just because I went there, or their mother went there, or a grandparent went there? Why does that entitled them to a special advantage over an equally bright, talented, and hard-working child of immigrant parents, whose ancestors never had the chance to attend one of these colleges? Or over a kid like I was when I was applying to undergraduate colleges, just a small-town kid from an average high school with one college-educated parent who had managed to scrape his way through the local public university on the GI Bill? Smart, talented and all that, as I think my subsequent academic record has demonstrated. But why does the legacy kid get a thumb on the scale over a kid like that? It makes no sense to me. And it's not just sour grapes on my part; I was admitted to the only undergrad school I applied to, I was happy to attend and I got an outstanding education there. I don't think I got a raw deal. I worry that others might.
  • HuntHunt Registered User Posts: 26,917 Senior Member
    I find this discussion odd. These private universities are, in some sense at least, businesses, and they've decided that a legacy preference is part of their business model. I don't believe that it has anything to do--today at least--with keeping anybody out. Maybe it keeps some small number of people out who would otherwise have gotten in (although I'm not convinced that's it's very many at all). But I don't see it as different in kind from other elements of the business model, such as how much they charge full-pay students, how many internationals they will take, the desire to take students from all over the country, etc. All of these decisions disadvantage some students who might be more qualified in terms of stats. I think they do some of these things to maintain the strength of the brand. Policies that hurt the brand--like discriminating against Jews--are scrapped. If the schools decide that legacy preference is hurting the brand, they'll scrap that too, as some have done. If you really don't like legacy preference, the thing to do is to preferentially apply to schools that don't have it.
  • poetgrlpoetgrl Registered User Posts: 13,334 Senior Member
    In pulling Bob Jones' tax exemption the government never took the position that BJU had to be open enrollment; only that it couldn't get a tax exemption if it discriminated on the basis of race, because that's against public policy

    It is simply not the same argument, sorry.

    It is categorically different for an institution, which due to institutional needs, chooses to admit certain numbers of URM's, athletes, musicians, actors, artists, AND legacies, than for an instution to systemically discriminate based on skin color. The two are not the same.

    There are so many mitigating factors in admissions. First, the student meets a certain qualifying level academically and then they begin to cull through the rest to make a "class." You might be admitted with a slightly lower standardized test score than me because the orchestra needs a tuba player. Someone else might be admitted with a slightly lower test score because the school needs to BUILD a new music building. And somebody else might be admitted with a slightly lower test score because I'm asian.

    The fact is that there is no pure admission standards, and this is why this does not work. The institution has to do what is best for the institution. This may include some legacy developmental admits. Love it or hate it, it's really no different than admitting a floutist because the school needs to have an orchestra. In the end, I highly doubt that they cannot find highly qualified legacy admits. Like it or not, IQ is somewhat genetic. Whether or not IQ beyond a certain point is even a valuable tool is up for debate, but as long as standardized test scores are being used, you are already on some pretty shaky ground. However, the efficacy of the admissions policy can probably be gauged by the 4 year graduation rate. Do these schools have particularly low graduation rates? Do legacy admits graduate at a consistently lower rate?

    No.

    For those unqualified, I really think most of these schools use a system of politely wait-listing legacies who have no chance of admissions, which arguably hurts the legacies way more than the school.

    ETA: I have nothing to gain, neither of my children have the slightest interest in attending any of my schools or my husbands. Since we're noting these things.
  • SquiddySquiddy Registered User Posts: 332 Member
    Personally, I've heard more parents complaining that their children *didn't* get into their alma maters, and saying things like "That's the last time I'll contribute to *them*" than 1st-hand reports about undeserved "legacies" getting in -- of course, that's meaningless, since it's all just hearsay, and my limited circle.

    But similarly, the most vocal complaints about "legacy" admissions seem to come from people who don't know any specifics, either, just oft-repeated "Urban Legens", heard from "a friend of a friend said that 98% of Harvard admissions were legacies, and that's not fair!"

    I've really come to believe that most complaints are simply a more socially acceptable way of justifying why little "Sylvester Muffington, III" didn't get into Harvard than blaming it on URM preferences, or Sylvester's lack of a cross-over dribble, or that little Syl was just not superlative enough to outshine the 10 other applicants for the seat he was competing for.

    Gaining admission into an Ivy is never, ever easy, and never, ever "fair". But I'd guess "legacy" status is one of the lowest evaluated factors there could be, and almost certainly wouldn't tip the scales for an unqualified applicant, or at least, for a very, very few.

    You'd likely have far more unqualified people getting admitted because they're the children of, or are celebrities themselves, are the children of famous politicians, are athletes, have a fraudulent back-story, or are members of terrorist organizations than those gaining admission solely because of legacy status.

    To me, it's more about class envy than any objective reality, and much ado about very, very little.

    IMO, of course.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,624 Senior Member
    ^ LOL. I'm complaining, and it's not because of "class envy" or because my kids didn't get into an Ivy. My D1 got into her first choice school ED, without benefit of a legacy preference, thank you very much. She didn't apply to any school where she would have been a legacy, though there were some good ones. I suggested to her at one point that she might think about applying to some of her legacy schools, but she just didn't care for the schools, for one thing, and beyond that she thought the whole idea that she might have some kind of advantage because I went there or another family member went there kind of appalling. Honest. She's always had her radar pretty finely tuned to what she deems to be social injustice, and she absolutely detests anything that smacks of class privilege, regardless of whether she's on the beneficiary side of the privilege line or the side that's getting the short straw. Her response was what got me thinking about the unfairness of it. And that interest was further piqued not by "urban legends" about this or that kid who didn't get in---because that happens all the time, to legacies and non-legacies alike. It was the data, albeit somewhat meager, presented in the WSJ article, that suggested the legacy advantage was, statistically speaking, in fact much larger than I had ever realized, relying as I had up until then on the DOMINANT "urban legend" that legacy doesn't really matter in the end---an urban legend belied by the only statistics I've seen on the subject, because the colleges themselves won't reveal more.

    Again, the point is not that "unqualified" legacies are being admitted into elite schools. Those schools have more qualified applicants, legacies and non-legacies, than they know what to do with. No, the unfairness lies in what is means for the unequal chances of admission among otherwise equally qualified people, with those holding the inherited status of "legacy" being awarded a thumb on the scale in their favor, increasing their odds of admission at the direct expense of reducing the chances of admission for those not blessed by accident of birth with that hereditary status. And that, it seems to me, strikes right at the heart of the principle of equality of opportunity that many of us profess to believe in.

    Look, tilting the scales in favor of legacy is NOT like affirmative action for URMs, which is partly designed to correct for past racially exclusionary policies and practices, and in part to promote diversity within the student body. I should think that, other things equal, the more legacies in your student body, the LESS diverse you become. It's not like recruiting the flautist for the orchestra or the quarterback for the football team or the film star---those are skills or talents that the school finds desirable to have in the mix in the student body. Being a legacy is not a skill or talent, it's not an element of merit considered broadly and multi-facetedly and holistically, it not an element of diversity like being a URM or coming from an underrepresented state or some exotic country. It's nothing but an inherited status. It's not even an inherited TRAIT, like having brown eyes or being able to do that tongue-rolling thing; it's an inherited social STATUS, for gosh sakes. It's the closest thing we have in this country to being Lord So-and-So or Lady Such-and-Such. It has nothing at all to do with making the student body better, more interesting, more multi-talented, or more diverse. Its only purpose, and its only effect, is to perpetuate privilege. And I think it kind of stinks.
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