January 10, 2004
A&M to disband legacy program

I have to say, I'm a bit surprised by this.

Texas A&M University President Robert Gates on Friday ended the school's legacy program, acknowledging that giving preference to applicants with blood ties to alumni is inconsistent with an admissions policy based solely on merit.

Gates' decision, effective immediately, ends a controversy that flared up in legislative hearings in past years and prompted minority politicians and activists this week to threaten a lawsuit if the policy wasn't changed.

"I had intended that legacy be addressed in an ongoing review of our admissions procedures," Gates said in a statement. "However, public perceptions of the fairness and equity of our process clearly are important and require prompt action to deal with an obvious inconsistency in an admissions strategy based on individual merit."

Gates said he made the decision after consulting with each Texas A&M University System regent.

A&M may be the first major university, public or private, to dismantle a full-fledged legacy program, national experts said. The University of California System eliminated a program in 2000, a limited one that gave children of out-of-state alumni a boost, granting them consideration along with in-state applicants.

A&M's legacy program gave preference to in-state and out-of-state children, grandchildren and siblings of school alumni. They received four points on a 100-point scale that also took into account high school class rank, test scores, extracurricular activities and other factors. It was the only legacy program among Texas public universities.

I'm surprised because of the extremely high level of loyalty that Aggies and Aggie graduates have for their school. There's no such thing as an A&M alumnus - there's only former students. You're an Aggie for life, and I know any number of Aggie grads who want nothing more than to send their kids to their alma mater. Honestly, I thought they'd either go back to considering race, or given that they've got a former student in the Governor's office, brazen it out until the story moved off the front pages.

So, A&M is now consistent in their approach, which is satisfactory to at least one critic:

"A&M's decision is good news for those of us who believe in merit-based university admissions," said Edward Blum, a senior fellow with the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington-based group that opposes affirmative action. "Now it's time for the University of Texas-Austin to follow A&M's example and eliminate both racial and legacy admissions preferences."

To other critics, it's just a good first step.

"This is a win for every student whose parents didn't attend A&M," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. "But I'm disappointed that race and ethnicity have not been reinstated as one of many factors in the admissions process."

The same sentiment was voiced by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who said "most right-thinking people still should be appalled because A&M is so overwhelmingly white and is not using one of the tools -- the consideration of race in admissions -- that could help it diversify;" and by Bledsoe, who said A&M has taken "a small step in the right direction, but eliminating the program won't repair the wrong done."

Here's why Coleman and Ellis aren't satisfied:

A&M's undergraduate population is 82 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black and 3 percent Asian-American.

Compare those totals to the 2000 Census numbers:

White persons, not of Hispanic/Latino origin, percent, 2000 52.4%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2000 (b) 32.0%
Black or African American persons, percent, 2000 (a) 11.5%
Asian persons, percent, 2000 (a) 2.7%

It'll be awhile before the underlying issue goes away.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 10, 2004 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

I'm not actually all that surprised that, faced with the suggestion to add affirmative action to balance a legacy program, A&M chose instead to end the legacy program. It's a way of answering the critics without adding an element to their admissions process they're clearly loathe to do.

And, call me cynical, but do you REALLY think the admissions office isn't going to be aware of someone's legacy status when they apply, whether it's officially on the books or not? I'm pretty sure most of the colleges I applied to didn't have an official legacy admissions program like A&M did, but they all had spots on the application for "did any of your family go here?" I think A&M will just move forward with the same kind of "unofficial" legacy admissions process that most other schools use.

Posted by: Amy on January 10, 2004 1:06 PM

Right, you have to remember they're Texas conservatives. Lying to keep the negroes out is OK with them; they'll just let in the legacies with a wink and a nod.

Posted by: noam chimpsky on January 10, 2004 4:28 PM

On one hand, the legacy system seems unfair and reeks of the "old boy" network." on the other hand, exactly how much difference will it make to the typical minority applicant to not spot those four points? I'm guessing that more often than not, it won't matter much.

I think the bigger concern for A&M at this point is that some of the "old money" donations don't dry up because of this. If that happens and the quality of the A&M experience suffers as a result, then it will have been a Pyrrhic victory for the opponents of the legacy system.

Posted by: Tim on January 10, 2004 6:51 PM

I'm a Former Student, though what was commonly called a "2%'er" there, more than slightly aware of the University Community's Rightward slant I choose to be a little more optimistic and see it as an expression of the Libertarian bent that shows up in the best of what comes out of A&M.

Posted by: Litch on January 11, 2004 3:16 AM

How hard can it be to get into A&M on your own steam, for God's sake? It's ain't Harvard, or even Berkeley, or even Austin.

I know, I'm a snob.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on January 11, 2004 7:09 AM

The issue isn't that A&M is hard to get into. The issue is that, given equally qualified candidates, the combination of a legacy system and the lack of an affirmative action system meant that, by and large, the white candidate was getting in, and the minority candidates were getting left out. This isn't about A&M's admissions standards from an academic standpoint. This is about having an even playing ground for those with comparable academic qualifications.

And, from what I remember during my college search, A&M provides a damned good education, specifically at public school prices for Texas students. Texas has a lot of college students to provide an education for. A great number of them apply to A&M for that opportunity.

Posted by: Amy on January 11, 2004 9:42 AM

I figure that the program was cancelled due to inbreeding at College Station.

Way too many Aggie recessives expressing themselves in the second and third generations. Sure, the polydactylism helps them count to 12 for figuring out who the Twelfth Man is, but they keep running out of spelling blocks to tell them how to spell Kyle Field.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on January 11, 2004 1:20 PM

A&M may not be Harvard, but it is a pretty difficult school to get in to. I was barely accepted (1 semester deferred) despite having a 3.6 GPA and 1240 on the SAT and that was over a decade ago. It's only gotten tougher since - particularly with the Ten Percent Rule, where from what I understand if you weren't in the top 10% of your class, it was monumentally difficult to get in last year, which made things a lot tougher for those that went to competitive schools.

In other words, getting into A&M is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

Posted by: R. Alex on January 11, 2004 8:01 PM

I normally comment when I see factually incorrect statements (such as Spring Break is March 9, 2004) and when I see intellectually dishonest arguments. Typically, I ignite the ire of those left of center who are more resistant to factual accuracy and intellectual honesty. But the Texas A&M case is an example of intellectually dishonest on the right.

There have been two non-meritorious preferences to admission to Texas A&M: (1) The legacy preference and (2) The parents-with-little-education (PLE) preference, and one proposed non-meritorious preference, the racial preference.

Conservatives as represented by TAMU administration:
1. Legacy preference - FAVORED
2. PLE preference - FAVORED
3. Racial preference - OPPOSED
Guiding principle of conservatives (suggested by me) is "Non-meritorious preferences are OK as long as they are race-neutral".

Liberals as represented by the outspoken elected officals:
1. Legacy preference - OPPOSED
2. PLE preference - FAVORED??
3. Racial preference - FAVORED
Guiding principle of liberals (suggested by me) is "We support non-meritorious preferences we think will benefit our ideological group".

The guiding principle of liberals has not changed. They still adhere to the favor/oppose list above.

But conservatives have changed. They claim to favor a meritocracy. But how can they when they still favor the the PLE preference? All it takes is a little intellectual dishonesty.

Posted by: Greg V. on January 12, 2004 4:11 PM