As race-conscious policies continue to divide students and state
residents, legacy policies are beginning to elicit a similar
resistance. Many oppose granting preferences to relatives of
alumni, but few have pursued their convictions through legislative
or judicial action.
Seeking to reverse this trend, Law school alum David Boyle has
recently drafted a petition, similar to that of the Michigan Civil
Rights Initiative, to end the use of legacy preferences in public
education, employment and contracting. If enacted, the proposed
amendment to the state constitution will prohibit the University
from considering alumni relationships as a factor in
To place his proposal on November’s ballot, Boyle must
overcome the same threshold MCRI faces for their initiative:
317,575 signatures by July 6. He will submit his petition to the
State Board of Canvassers this week for approval of petition
“I may not be an expert in fundraising, organization or
anything else, so I don’t know. At least though, if the idea
gets out, that may create some support,” Boyle said.
Currently with no official endorsements or financial backing,
Boyle is not deterred. He said that this proposal “has
teeth” and goes beyond merely “urging” schools to
stop. Provided the initiative receives significant support, he will
start an organization called MERIT — Michiganders for
Education/Employment Respecting Integrity and Talent.
MERIT was also the acronym for a 2002 initiative regarding state
employee’s collective bargaining rights.
His petition drive represents growing opposition to legacy
preferences. Texas A&M University decided last week to stop
using alumni affiliation in its admissions programs, and the
University of Georgia has also banned it from consideration.
Out of about 1,600 to 2,000 applicants with legacy status at
A&M, 312 students received admission based on their relation to
an alum. The school accepts more than 11,500 students per year.
The alumni connection matters less to minorities. In both 2002
and 2003, it was a deciding factor for no more than three dozen
black and Hispanic applicants, according to a report by the Houston
For this reason, legacy preferences — as opposed to
race-conscious affirmative action — are discriminatory, Boyle
On Monday, the MCRI officially started their petition drive to
end the use of race, ethnicity and other characteristics as a
factor in state institutions. The group was spearheaded by
University of California regent Ward Connerly and his group the
American Civil Rights Coalition.
“This could be the alternative to the Connerly initiative
that targets people who are already largely underprivileged and
underrepresented,” he said.
By presenting his efforts as a counter-Connerly initiative,
Boyle hopes to highlight the “fundamentally flawed”
reasoning of the MCRI proposal, which he said supposes to promote
equal protection in a society that is unequal.
But the two initiatives are similar in ideology. Most
significantly, Boyle co-opted the text of his proposed amendment
from that of MCRI. Both efforts focus on eliminating different
forms of preferential treatment.
State Rep. Leon Drolet (R- Clinton Twp.), who co-chairs
MCRI’s steering committee, said he agrees with Boyle’s
belief that legacy preferences are unfair.
“I personally am against any admissions policy not based
on merit or on what someone could bring to a university,”
Drolet said, citing the University’s consideration of not
only legacy status, but also geography. “Most people within
our organization oppose them as well.”
MCRI’s opposition to legacy preferences is evident. The
group leaders considered adding a clause banning alumni
preferential treatment in their proposed amendment, but opted not
to for consistency reasons.
There is, however, at least a surface distinction between the
two proposals, Boyle added.
“(Connerly’s proposal) may force a decrease in
merit, because one thing that affirmative action programs recognize
is that affirmative action is not just about numbers,” he
Boyle believes that his proposal encourages merit, since those
who benefit from an alumni affiliation are less diverse and
Universities consider legacy for a number of reasons. While it
may foster school spirit and promote loyalty, administrators say
that it also helps in raising funds. According to U.S. News and
World Report, the University ranks 111th in alumni donations among
the nation’s top universities, with an average giving rate of
15 percent. Many other selective institutions, from Harvard to Rice
University, have giving rates upwards of 30 percent.
“It’s obviously just a blatant appeal to alumni, who
are the key donors,” said LSA senior Ruben Duran, who is also
editor-in-chief of the Michigan Review. “Nevertheless, I
wouldn’t be sad to see it go.”
Boyle likened this reasoning of giving alumni special treatment
to help fundraising to a form of prostitution or bribery. Alumni
should donate because they love the school, he added.
“We shouldn’t do things that are morally wrong, just
with the excuse that it raises some money for the school,” he
The University gives primary legacy status to any applicant
whose parent or stepparent attended the University and secondary
status to those whose grandparents, siblings or spouses have
Under the new undergraduate application, which no longer uses
points to determine admission, applicants are judged
“holistically,” so that characteristics like race,
geographic location, and alumni affiliation are all loosely
considered. These attributes are supposed to contribute to the
school’s diversity. Currently, legacy is a qualitative factor
for applicants, but under the former point system, applicants were
given four points out of 120.
In absence of a point system, it is difficult, if not
impossible, to quantify the extent to which legacy contributes to
admission or rejection. Boyle says this is an ambiguity that is
But Sally Lindsley, associate director in undergraduate
admissions, said that “nothing is done in isolation”
and that “(legacy status) is one of many things that we look