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The Legacy Contoversy

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rollinkarr
Words 1570
Pages 7
Chris Rollins
English 102
Shannon Garland
02/21/2009
The Legacy Controversy
You’ve just completed four grueling years of high school. You have a 3.5 grade point average and figure getting into the University of Virginia will be no problem. You and your best friend have planned on going to Virginia since you were kids; his father attended and has told you many stories of his escapades while there. One problem, your best bud only has a 2.5 GPA, and hasn’t exactly applied himself during high school; he may not get in. You rush to the mail box everyday hoping for an acceptance letter, and this day it’s there. You eagerly rip into it only to read “We are sorry, but you have not been accepted to this year’s freshmen class”; you are heartbroken. The phone rings, you answer to the sounds of your best bud screaming “we’re going to Virginia baby!”; how can this be? The answer, he’s a legacy and you’re not. Legacy admission practices have long been a topic of controversy. Many claim they are unethical and violate anti-discrimination laws while others claim they are a financial necessity and help boost school loyalty. Each side has valid arguments, deciding who’s right or wrong is up to you.
The article “The curse of Nepotism”, featured in The Economist, paints a jaded picture of the Legacy admission practices of Universities across the country. The article reminds us that this country was founded on the idea that you can achieve your goals by working hard, and being honestly committed to it. The idea of being rewarded for hard work, and not for who you are is the American way, isn’t it? The article gives detailed statistics showing that universities using legacy admission practices freshman classes are between ten to fifteen percent legacy and schools like Notre Dame (23%) can be even higher. (The curse of Nepotism pg. 217) Legacies in fact, as the article points out, are two to four times more likely to be admitted to the countries best universities, especially those considered Ivy League. In 1964 George W. Bush was accepted to Yale University with a C average and a 566 SAT score. He was a third generation legacy so he was admitted over others with much better grades and scores. (DeKoven pg. 224) Harvard College’s dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, admits that forty percent of legacy applicants get into Harvard versus eleven percent of non-legacy applicants. He considers legacy “an ever so slight tip” in the applicant’s favor; Harvard turns down more than 2000 class valedictorians every year. (The curse of Nepotism pg. 218) A Department of Education report released in 1990 actually concluded that Harvard legacy students are far less qualified for admission than non-legacy students. The article poses’ the question “Why give privilege to those already coming from privileged homes?”, the answer according university deans is simple, fund raising. Private, as well as some public schools, claim legacy students help build school loyalty and generate higher alumni donations which they depend upon in order to operate, although, as several sources point out, the majority of public schools funding comes from public tax dollars. While supporting the claims of the Economist’s article, Robert DeKoven’s article “Time to Bury the Legacy” brings into question the issues of race and affluence during the admission process. DeKoven claims using legacy status as a way to admit students gives even more advantage to white students over students of color. Federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination were not put into place until the 1960s so many minorities don’t have generations of legacies to depend upon. “It’s a mark of achievement to overcome poverty and adversity; it’s the luck of the gene pool to be the son of George h. W. and Barbara Bush.” (Dekoven pg. 225) However, as Thomas and Shepard point out, as the first generation of minority graduate’s children become college aged, they will begin to benefit from legacy practices as will their children and the generations to come. (Legacy Admissions are Defensible pg. 223)
Equally as disturbing to DeKoven was the practice of parents making donations in their child’s name to gain them an admission preference over a child who may be less fortunate. One case in Illinois involved 83 entering medical students and found that 64 of them had pledges totaling $2 million dollars, made in their names. (Dekoven pg. 225) The question here is what do we define as a donation? Is it a blatant contribution to a university by an alumni or could it not also be considered a donation when you pay taxes to the state university your child attends. Thomas and Shepard suggest that tax dollars collected help support state universities and that should give preference to in-state students. They argue that those tax dollars not only help the in-state student, but they help every student, therefore those who financially support the university should expect some preference. (Legacy Admissions are Defensible pg. 221) Data about this topic is hard to get due to student privacy rights and the lack of government audits ensuring college reports concerning admissions is accurate.
Some states prohibit using race as a way to admit students, ending affirmative action programs, however, banning affirmative action for the affluent must also be included in this ban. In her article “May the Best Man or Woman Win”, Mirium Schulman points out a study conducted by U.C. Berkeley. The study compiled data from ten of the nation’s best universities. The data showed more legacy students were admitted to the institutions than the combined total of all minorities admitted under the affirmative action program. On the topic of race she states “If, ultimately, we want to disallow it as a bias for preference, we should be prepared to justify why it is any less worthy than other characteristics we do consider.” (Schulman pg. 219) The U.S. Department of Education‘s Office for Civil Rights found that Harvard’s legacy practice provided an overwhelming advantage to white students (96% of all Ivy League graduates are white), but was not a violation of the Civil Rights Act. Instead they ruled the practice was a “legitimate institutional goal”, and Harvard was not charged with discrimination. (Megalli pg. 230)
Most universities have the same philosophy when it comes to legacy applicants; they generate income for the institution and they improve campus loyalty. The article, “Preserve Universities Right to Shape Student Community” featured in USA Today, argues that legacy admission preference has been a long standing tradition at most universities, and forcing them to stop the practice could undermine their ability to shape the student body. The article points out that when compared to a standard admission student, a legacy student will generally have a better sense of school pride, more active parents and on average outperform them academically. Since most of the parents are alumni, keeping them active in the university is the easiest way to get donations from them, thus by using legacy admission techniques to get their children on campus, universities are able to increase revenue through alumni donations. The article uses Dickinson College’s alumni donations to really drive this point home, pointing out that 25% of the schools budget comes from alumni and without it they would be forced to raise tuition. In 2001, 28% of private donations totaling over $7 billion were from alumni. (Thomas & Shepard pg. 221) With today’s economy looking bleak, every state is looking for budget cuts, and unfortunately many educational institutions are feeling the effects of it. The importance of private and alumni donations has never been greater.
America was founded on the philosophy that every man is created equal, and that we each shape our own destiny by what we do in life, not by who we are. We must all be given the chance to further our knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we get to chose where we get to do it. Life isn’t fair, and we should always have a plan B. Whether you agree or disagree with legacy practices, the facts are, there is just as much evidence supporting them as there is refuting them. Until there is a clear cut investigation that proves the argument of either side, the question will remain, “Are legacy admission practices necessary?”

Work Cited
“The Curse of Nepotism.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 217-18.
DeKoven, Robert. “Time to Bury the Legacy.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed.
Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 224-25.
Megalli, Mark. “So Your Dad Went to Harvard.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum.
Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 229-31.
“Preserve Universities’ Right to Shape Student Community.” Writing and Reading Across the
Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 232-33.
Schulamn, Miriam. “May the Best Man or Woman Win.” Writing and Reading Across the
Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 218-220.
Shepard, Terry, and Debra Thomas. “Legacy Admissions Are Defensible Because the Process
Can’t Be ‘Fair’.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. 10th ed. New York: Longman, 2008. 220-23.…...

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