The email arrived as a temptation.
An invitation that seduces me to participate in a questionable game. I crushed my doubts and completed the form of my alma mater, noting that I have a son who could submit an application as a legacy.
Studies have shown that everyone knows that it is true: students who apply for admission to universities attended by a family member often have a significant unearned advantage over those who do not. It can be used as a tiebreaker when deciding between two well-qualified applicants or you can add additional points to an application. A handful of elite institutions (MIT, Oxford, Cambridge and the University of California-Berkeley) do not consider the legacy as part of admissions, but many of the selective American universities do.
Inherited preferences were originally designed to favor white Protestant men at the expense of Jewish applicants, Catholics and immigrants who began to obtain a higher score on the entrance exams in greater numbers once they were allowed to submit the application. And, to this day, studies show that the people who benefit most from this momentum are those who least need it. The New York Times editorial board recently described it as an affirmative action for the rich.
Universities defend the practice because they say it increases the donations of long-term alumni and the commitment to the institution. It is almost fun to listen to universities with more than one billion dollars defending a system of privileges because it guarantees their own wealth. In addition, there are investigations that dispute that same claim. If Oxford, Cambridge and MIT do not need to rely on inherited preferences to maintain their world class status, what does that say about Harvard, Yale and all other elite institutions that feel compelled to hold on to it?
In reality, colleges and universities will not voluntarily dismantle inherited preferences simply because they know it would bother many alumni. Some parents believe that their commitment and relationship with an institution deserves bonus points for their children. It is not clear why a father's love, devotion or financial support for something should result in his son being entitled to special consideration for it. In the case of access to higher education, all it does is perpetuate the inequalities integrated into a manipulated system.
Unlike becoming an exceptional athlete, musician or student, being born to parents who attended a particular school did not require anything from the student.
I say this while I admit that I was not willing to disarm unilaterally in the current arms race of admissions. But if my university or graduate school asked me in a survey of alumni if I would be in favor of eliminating that consideration completely from their admissions process, I would support getting rid of it for everyone.
Part of the reason why families are unlikely to give up this advantage for their children is because of how competitive and unaffordable the higher education has become in recent decades. There is no way to accept me at the graduate school I attended according to today's admission standards. And the current costs in these same places would have put them completely out of my reach back then (even when adjusted for inflation).
Most middle-class families worry about being able to pay for college for their children, and higher education is increasingly considered a prerequisite for survival in the global economy. Parents' anxiety about securing their child's place in the middle class or maintaining a place in the upper class may be too great.
Equality is great in theory, until it impacts its own privilege.
And, interestingly enough, the public debate about the elimination of inherited preferences is gaining momentum at the exact moment when historically underrepresented groups could finally benefit from it.
It would be fascinating to see data from the current survey on how many students would support ending inherited preferences in their own institutions. Is there an overlap between those who unite against affirmative action programs but who support inherited preferences?
Do not expect to see universities asking these questions to their alumni in the short term.
They may not want to hear the answers.
. (tagsToTranslate) comment (t) aisha sultan (t) post-dispatch (t) legacy (t) affirmative action (t) admission to university (t)