Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions

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If so, they get preferential treatment.

Locust Talk: Legacy Admissions (Episode 2)

This coincides with a growing lack of socioeconomic diversity at top universities in the US. With social inequality routine, legacy preferences represent a still higher level of favouritism. But legacy preferences are an even worse form of cheating. How did a country born of a revolution against aristocracy become such fertile ground for university admission preferences based on lineage?


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How is their open use justified? Legacy preferences were introduced after the first world war in reaction to an influx of immigrant students, particularly Jewish, into top East Coast colleges. As Jews often outperformed the Anglo-Saxon elite on standard meritocratic criteria, universities initially adopted Jewish quotas. A century on, such preferences still discriminate against minorities. Legacy preferences are sometimes defended as just tiebreakers among equally qualified students, but they are much more than that. A study of 10 leading US colleges by researchers at Princeton found that a legacy candidate got a boost equivalent to an extra points out of a possible 1, points in the SAT standardised test that most applicants sit.

At the California Institute of Technology, which does not use legacy preferences, only 1. Supporters of legacy preferences argue they are important to keep alumni loyal and encourage donations.

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But there is almost no empirical research to back this claim. Legacy preferences are now being attacked and may not survive in the long term. This February, student groups at more than a dozen elite institutions announced that they were mobilising against them. Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among the dozens of parents facing federal charges.

Others charged include nine coaches at elite schools.

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Most of the faces of the scandal are white, wealthy and well-connected. But the scam strays into the affirmative action minefield because it raises questions that have long driven the debate over racial preferences: What's the difference between a deserving or undeserving college student?

Affirmative action for the rich : legacy preferences in college admissions

When is preferential treatment justified, and when is it wrong? Should there be a level playing field for all students? People are already answering those questions by filtering them through the lens of the college admissions scam. Some supporters of affirmative action cite the scandal as evidence that the real scam in college admissions is how wealthy white parents game the system from cradle to campus. Some even use the scam to indict the vision of America that many affirmative action opponents evoke when they tell poor black and brown students that anyone can make their way to the top if they just work hard enough.

The media landscape is changing fast

One woman confessed on Facebook to spending years ghostwriting college application essays, letters and resumes for the children of wealthy parents. She wrote that the scandal is proof "the upper class is a closed system.


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  • It is rigged," Jaimie Leigh wrote. Some background might help. When anyone starts talking about how race and class predetermine a child's outcome in the United States, they bump up against some of the most cherished beliefs of the conservative legal world.


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    • The conservative legal movement that helped shape the five conservative justices who now sit on the Supreme Court has long preached the virtues of a "level playing field. The act of considering a student's race in school admissions is as odious as racism itself, they say. This movement says the Constitution is "colorblind," that dividing people up by race is unconstitutional, and that all Americans should be treated as individuals, not as members of racial or ethnic groups.

      Chief Justice John Roberts once alluded to this legal point of view when he wrote in a voting rights case, "It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race. Will Roberts and fellow conservatives on the high court look at revelations from the admissions scam and conclude that divvying up students based on wealth and family connections is also a "sordid" business?

      And will they look at the scam and conclude that if the ultra-wealthy go through so much to rig the college admissions process in their favor, how much worse must it be for students who are racial minorities and tend to come from more working-class backgrounds? Those kind of questions could come up in what will most likely be an epoch-changing case. The Supreme Court is expected eventually to take up an ongoing case centering on Harvard University's affirmative action policies.

      Opinion: We're Finally Talking About Wealth and Legacy - YR Media

      The case could be the one that delivers a victory in a battle conservatives have been waging for more than 40 years: the abolishment of all racial preferences in college admissions. What would that victory look like? It would mean colleges could no longer consider race under any circumstances when looking at applicants -- even to promote diversity. The conservative majority on the high court won't shy away from the movement's goal of abolishing affirmative action in college admissions.

      The revelations from the college scam won't make a difference. She says the court's conservative majority has subscribed to the notion that black and Latino students are robbing white and Asian students from college spots they deserve for so long they are immune to evidence that suggests otherwise. Some affirmative action opponents are already going after another new narrative that's emerging from the college scam: the belief that wealthy parents pervert the admissions process because of the perks money can buy.

      What's wrong, though, with parents trying to give their kids every edge through legitimate means, asks Rick Hess, an author and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.