A Mea Culpa on Legacy Admission

We were quick to salute Johns Hopkins for announcing the elimination of legacy admission. But absent data, frankly, we’re skeptical the children of major donors won’t have a leg up in the years to come. We believe in the words of President Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”

Earlier this week, we saluted Johns Hopkins University for announcing the elimination of legacy admission. In that same piece we wrote on Johns Hopkins officially announcing the elimination of legacy admission, we were sure to bring to our readers’ attention that Johns Hopkins had the luxury of being able to eliminate legacy admission — a practice we have long and proudly opposed — because the school happens to be the recipient of funds from the single most generous college donor of all, the greatest Mayor of New York City in history, Michael Bloomberg. But a reader of ours then wrote in surprised that we would accept Johns Hopkins’ admissions office at their word.

We Want to Believe Johns Hopkins, We Do!

Sure, this was a nice announcement that serves as great press for the school but will Johns Hopkins really not offer preferential treatment to, say, Mayor Bloomberg’s grandchild in the years to come? Our reader was right. We were so enthused that an elite school had announced the elimination of legacy admission that we wanted to just accept what they had to say at face value. But we should know better. After all, we’re the first to tell our readers not to believe what colleges tell you. As an example, elite schools may very well say they’re need-blind, but most of these schools are, in truth, need-aware.

But Johns Hopkins Must Release Legacy Data So We Can “Trust, But Verify”

In response to this reader’s skepticism about Johns Hopkins’ announcement, we called for Johns Hopkins to release data in the years to come on the percentage of legacies admitted in each incoming class. This way, we can hold the school accountable, to glean if they really did drop legacy admission. Would this data tell us if one or two development cases were offered preferential treatment in admissions? No, that kind of data would slip through the cracks but the total percentage of legacy admits in each incoming class would at least allow us to check and verify that the process has been largely eliminated true to Johns Hopkins’ word.

MIT and Caltech Should Also Release Legacy Data

That reader who wrote in to us was right. We were so quick to salute Johns Hopkins that we forgot to raise our skeptical eyebrow. In fact, this is precisely why we’re issuing a mea culpa today. Another reader, Freddie, wrote in to us with the comment of the decade to our blog. In reference to us mentioning that Johns Hopkins would join the ranks of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in publicly disavowing the practice of legacy admission, Freddie wrote that MIT has been publicly called out by a former admissions officer for “routinely [favoring] the children of wealthy donors and alumni” in spite of their stated policy to the contrary.” Freddie, that’s some “Bye, Felicia!” You are so spot on!

We Believe People Are Good at Heart, But Show Us the Data Anyway

Maybe it’s because we’ve been fighting for an end to legacy admission for so many years from atop our soapbox in admission that we just wanted to believe Johns Hopkins with their historic announcement. We wanted to believe that people are truly good at heart. And Johns Hopkins may very well be telling it like it is. But without that data, we can’t verify that this isn’t all just some fancy announcement. And the same is true for MIT and Caltech. So we hereby issue a call today for MIT and Caltech to also release data in the years to come on the percentage of students admitted who are the progeny of alumni — because MIT and Caltech must also be held accountable. If these schools truly aren’t favoring development cases, then they’ve got nothing to hide.


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