Of the 55 questions on the first part of the University’s 2008 undergraduate admissions application, there continues to be at least one unnecessary and unfair question. It’s question No. 30, and, no, it’s not the optional question about an applicant’s race and ethnicity. The question that has to go is the one about the whether an applicant has immediate family members who are University alumni. For a university that values fairness and diversity, continuing to consider legacy status in admissions decisions and even keeping the question on the application sends the wrong message.
At universities across the country, legacy considerations are the antithesis of equal opportunity. Designed with the purpose of reinforcing alumni relations and bolstering donations, the practice gives admissions preference to students with entrenched ties to the university they are hoping to attend. At many universities, the perception – if not the practice – is that this preference translates into a higher acceptance rate for privileged, white students. If an application is coupled with a big donation, that’s even better.
The University has claimed that things are different here. While the application asks about alumni relations, the answer is supposedly not given much weight and doesn’t help pad the endowment. In the University’s holistic approach to considering applicants, legacy is only one of hundreds of factors taken into consideration. Even when the University was still using the now-illegal points system, students only received up to four points for being a legacy. Considering that underrepresented minorities received 20 points and even Michigan residents received 10 points, this wasn’t much of a boost.
But here’s the catch: No one can quantify how much being a legacy matters – the University doesn’t collect the data. It has no incentive to keep this information either. If the University collected data, it would either find out that its question is deceptive and doesn’t matter, or it would find out that it’s supporting the old-boys-club stereotype of legacy preferences. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Ignorance isn’t the only option, though. The University could do what it should have done decades ago and simply take the question off of the application. If the University is right and being a legacy doesn’t influence decisions or increase donations, then it’s a useless question that does more harm to the University’s image than it does good.
If the University is wrong and legacy status actually affects whether someone gets into the University or gives money, then continuing this practice is unquestionably despicable. Giving preference to applicants who have entrenched histories at the University is in exact opposition to the University’s commitment to diversity and the underlying argument that universities can provide social mobility for disadvantaged groups. And if it’s about money, no one should lose sleep if a few alumni who think they can buy admissions decisions stop donating.
Having a parent that went to the University may not guarantee a student’s admission, but giving the impression that it may be a factor, even a minor one, is a deceitful practice. Question No. 30 needs to go.