January 05, 2004
Legacy admissions

So Texas A&M's legacy admissions policy has come under fire (also noted by Byron).

A&M's program is drawing particular fire because university President Robert Gates recently announced the university, now free from a court ruling prohibiting racial preferences, won't consider race in admissions. Coleman and other black legislators cited a seeming contradiction between Gates' rhetoric that students be admitted strictly because of merit and a program they say perpetuates class distinction and white advantage.

Gates, president for 1 1/2 years, said he doesn't have a gut-level feeling about legacies, much less a thought-out one, because he inherited the program and knows little about it. He said a task force will study its future.

There's another reason why A&M's policy is drawing fire from state legislators like Garnet Coleman and Lon Burnam, though as far as I can see it's only mentioned in the AP wire feed:

While nearly all selective private universities and some public universities around the country have some sort of legacy program to boost alumni support, A&M is the state's only public school with one.

Yes, that does change the dynamic somewhat, doesn't it? Remember, A&M has also announced that it won't consider race as a factor in its admissions. I'll get back to that in a second. In the meantime, let's look at the practical effect:

Typically, anywhere from 1,650 to more than 2,000 A&M applicants a year receive legacy points, so called because they reward the grandchildren, children or siblings of A&M graduates. Such applicants receive 4 points on a 100-point scale that also takes into account such factors as class rank, test scores, extracurricular activities, community service and others.

Most A&M applicants admitted with legacy points don't need them to get in. But in 2003, 312 whites were admitted who wouldn't have been without their alumni ties. In 2002, that figure was 321.

The legacy program was the difference for six blacks and 27 Hispanics in 2003, and three blacks and 25 Hispanics in 2002.

A&M officials noted that minority legacies are usually admitted at roughly the same rates as white legacies. They also stressed that having legacy points is no guarantee of being admitted.

"I wish I had the numbers for how many applicants with legacy points don't get in," said Frank Ashley, A&M's acting assistant provost for enrollment. "There are roughly as many of them. I know because I hear from alumni parents when their kid's application is rejected."

Now then. I'm perfectly fine with A&M or any other school giving bonus points to legacies. Clearly, it's just one factor among many, and it's decisive in a relatively small number of cases. What I don't understand is how giving such a boost to alumni offspring is any different than giving a boost to racial or ethnic minorities. The argument is the same: one factor, small overall effect, and awarded due to the uncontrollable circumstances of one's birth. I'm not saying a school can't choose to have one type of preference and not another. I just don't understand why the two aren't considered equivalent.

I should note that I can corroborate Ashley's claim about legacies who don't get in. I have some cousin-in-laws who didn't get in despite having both a father and a grandfather who are Aggie graduates.

State Rep. Fred Brown, R-College Station, defends A&M's program but said he would like it better if it were amended to give legacy points to students whose parents went to Prairie View A&M, A&M-Kingsville and other schools in the A&M system. He said he will file a bill to effect that change at the Legislature's next regular session.

That's a reasonable compromise, and one that I might be willing to accept. I'd like to know how many current PVA&M and other A&M system students might have gotten into TAMU if this had been in place before I commit to it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 05, 2004 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

Good post. I think that some of the more boisterous rhetoric from affirmative action opponents stems from a misconception: That grossly unqualified minority students are accepted over the heads of better qualified, but white, students.

Posted by: Kriston on January 5, 2004 7:54 PM

These admissions policies are consistent with the desires of the wealthy A&M donor base to protect tradition. Legacy students are much more likely to love all things Aggie than students from diverse backgrounds.

They would love more minority students at A&M, as long as those students think and act exactly like conservative rural/suburban white people. Diversity of thought is frowned upon.

Posted by: AngryElephant on January 6, 2004 9:57 AM

alumni legacy admissions are vile, sick, demented, depraved , an aboimination on the face of the earth. The Kennedys, Bushes, Basses all benefited from alumni preferences which are extremeley repellent and repugnant. NO public levy tax money should be ever given to private universities for research or student financial aid that practices alumni legacy preferences.
No tax money for harvard, the Ivies or Rice University or SMU for practicing legacy alumni preferences. if alumni preferences were a DNA molecule, it would have the same molecular strructure as a race preference. GATTACA so to speak.

Posted by: biaknabato on January 15, 2004 2:15 AM

all private universities like harvard, yale, princeton, rice, duke, columbia , johns hopkins and MIT that practice legacy alumni admissions have no right whatsoever to receive funds from the federal govermentment be they for research or student financial aid.

Posted by: leo cruz on February 23, 2004 10:51 PM

MIT doesn't consider 'legacy' candidates. all merrit.

Posted by: scott on May 23, 2006 3:55 PM