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.
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.
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."
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.