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The Ivy Coach Daily

July 13, 2022

Legacy Admission in Peril

A piece in The New York Times paints a bleak picture of the future of legacy admission.

As loyal readers of our college admissions blog know all too well, we oppose the continuation of the practice of legacy admission. In short, from atop our soapbox in elite college admissions, we have deemed legacy preference in admissions — a practice that dates back to the 1920s used to limit the number of Jewish and Catholic students at our nation’s elite universities — to be an anachronistic practice more fitting an aristocracy than our proud American meritocracy. We have also gone so far as to deem the practice unlawful — or, more specifically, a violation of our nation’s tax code. After all, 26 U.S. Code § 170 stipulates that no part of a deduction from a charitable contribution shall “inure to the benefit” of the donor. Yet when alumni donors make tax-deductible donations to their alma maters, their children often receive preferential treatment in admissions. And while we’ve been calling for an end to the practice of legacy admission for many years, it seems — now more than ever with Affirmative Action to be decided by our nation’s highest court in the fall — that the practice is on its last legs.

As Stephanie Saul reports for The New York Times in a piece entitled “Elite Colleges’ Quiet Fight to Favor Alumni Children,” “The practice of legacy admissions, however, may soon face its greatest test yet — and in a twist, its future could be tied to the future of affirmative action…Explicitly favoring the children of alumni — some of whom would be competitive applicants regardless because of socioeconomic advantages — would become harder to defend if racial preferences are no longer allowed. ‘If the Supreme Court outlaws affirmative action, legacy preferences will not be long for this world,’ said Justin Driver, a professor at Yale Law School.”

And why should legacy preference be eliminated beyond the fact that it flies in the face of our nation’s tax code, you ask? Because the legacy pool is overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly privileged. If Affirmative Action, or the practice of offering preferential treatment in admissions to underrepresented minorities, is going to be overturned, it’s logical that eliminating offering preferential treatment to wealthy white applicants with family ties to a particular university should immediately follow. Of course, our nation’s elite universities don’t like to boast about the preference given to legacy candidates. As Saul correctly writes, few elite college press releases, which so proudly lead with the great geographic and ethnic diversity of their incoming classes, also boast that such a large percentage of the students are the progeny of alumni.

So will legacy admission be eliminated in the months to come? Some elite universities, like Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College, have already done away with the practice in recent months. But the fate of legacy admission may soon no longer be up to the individual universities to decide. Rather, it may soon be up to nine justices on our nation’s highest court. Stay tuned!

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