The legacy of legacies
Reading the news is my favorite method of procrastination. It makes me feel like I’m “doing something”, contributing tomy education (though finishing my class readings might contribute more). In my dawdling on the New York Times homepage today, I found an intriguing op-ed about legacy preferences in college admissions. The piece is by Richrd D. Kahlenberg, a member of a liberal-leaning think-tank called the Century Foundation, who has published a raft of articles on equality and diversity in higher education.
In the Times article, Kahlenberg runs through typical arguments for giving alumni kids preferential treatment in
admissions decisions, then offers his own strongly anti-legacy-preference argument. He frames the debate in terms of another controversial topic, calling legacy leg-ups “affirmative action for the rich”:
Affirmative action policies are controversial because they pit two fundamental principles against each other — the anti-discrimination principle, which says we should not classify people by ancestry, and the anti-subordination principle, which says we must address a brutal history of discrimination. Legacy preferences, by contrast, advance neither principle — they simply classify individuals by bloodline.
When I read something in the Times, I tend to assume it’s original and groundbreaking. However, I decided to poke around the Web to see what else had been written on this topic. As it turns out, a few similar stories were already out there. A few of them mentioned Middlebury specifically. Here’s an excerpt from one at ABC.com:
Middlebury College in Vermont was unapologetic about its legacy acceptance rate, which it said remained steady at roughly 48 percent in recent years. The college’s overall acceptance rate this year was 18 percent, also a record low.
“While we remain committed to taking a close look at sons and daughters of alumni, their academic credentials are typically at least as strong as the rest of the admitted pool. As long as that is the case, it does not surprise me that their admit rate would stay relatively consistent,” Bob Clagett, dean of admissions at Middlebury, wrote in an e-mail to ABC News.
The rest of the piece digs further into the gray areas. It’s worth a read — if you can fight through all the ads and info boxes on ABC’s site.
I’m a legacy, sort of: my dad got an M.A. from the Spanish School back in the day, and both my parents taught there a few summers ago. After finding out that Midd’s legacy preference system apparently makes a big difference, I wonder if it played a role in my acceptance. No one wants to feel like an affirmative-action admit.
Are Middlebury’s legacy rules unfair? If so, are they changing? Here are two more links, both to articles from the Chronicle of Higher Ed., on this issue.
- Kahlenberg – 10 Myths About Legacy Preferences
- Thomas and Shepard - Legacy Admissions Are Defensible, Because the Process Can’t Be ‘Fair’
These certainly aren’t the only articles about this; suggestions for more links are welcome.