Legacy Admissions are Stupid
By J.D. Porter
PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 14, 2007
I like rich, academically incapable idiots as much as the next guy, but Iím beginning to wonder if Columbia should stop admitting so many of them. Iím speaking, obviously, of legacy students. Despite claiming to care about diversity, our school still gives them preference in admissions. For some reason people donít seem all that infuriated about this, even though the whole concept is about as fair as picking a deranged child to rule a nation because heís the firstborn. Well, the time has come to destroy that sickly child.
Legacy admissions initially came about because Ivy League administrators hated Jews. In the 1920s, they noticed that someone had been educating Jewish people, who were now better qualified for their schools than the traditional student body, the bored children of various industrial barons. Horrified, the people at Yale, for instance, decided that only someone whose dad had gone to Yale could truly understand Yale pride (like white pride, but richer), and legacy admissions were born. Since Jewish parents had mostly spent their college years in Lithuanian shtetls and disease-ridden tenements, the old order was restored.
Itís unclear why Yale somehow found legacy admissions more acceptable than simply announcing a formal policy of anti-Semitism, but there must have been a reason, because we at Columbia still find it acceptable today. Obviously our administrators arenít intentionally racist, but they do endorse a policy that tries to set racial diversity back at least one generation. Iím all for celebrating our heritage, but only if that heritage isnít appalling and stupid, like most of Americaís racial history. The Wall Street Journal estimates that 10 to 15 percent of Ivy League students are legacy students. Admitting about one-hundred-plus students a year based on an at-best twenty-year-old model of diversity is the academic equivalent of keeping separate drinking fountains just for old timesí sake.
Of course, we have to remember that in addition to being racist, classist, and probably misogynist, legacy admissions also contribute nothing to our educational experience. Itís tough to envision a scenario in which a class discussion pivots on one studentís explanation of what his dad thought when he was here. At least student athletes actually have to do something in exchange for admissions leniency, like kicking a ball, or rowing a paddle. This puts them far beyond the value, and probably skill set, of any legacy student.
The one viable argument for continuing legacy admissions is that legacy families are often big University donors. Those Jew-hating Yalies may have been unscrupulous, but they knew the importance of that crucial robber-baron dollar. The tenement kids might deserve to get in, but their sob-stories arenít going to buy any new science buildings. Columbia has to court the wealthy, even if they are mostly white guys. On the other hand, they might not all be white guys if we would stop with the legacy admissions.
Either way, the ďit makes moneyĒ argument is specious to begin with. You could apply the exact same rationale for selling arms to terrorists, but that doesnít mean Columbia should contact al Qaeda. Legacy admissions may not be punishable by international tribunal, but they are obviously wrong, and our need for money doesnít make them OK. We might as well drop the charade and just allow people to openly pay their way into the school. It wouldnít hurt to have a guarantee that those kids you hate had to fund your building maintenance. Every one I know wishes they would shut up and go away. People arenít qualified to do things on the basis of their parentsí skill sets. My dad was the top marksman in his class at West Point, but it would not be wise to choose me to defend America, or even a single American. Similarly, when we admit students because their parents were smart, we increase the chances of having dumb students on campus, and that ruins things for everyone.
Iím sure that not every legacy student is a privileged idiot gliding his way through college en route to an undeserved executive position in a major corporation. Some could even potentially be smart. Clearly Ivy League parents are more likely than average to send their kids to good schools. If thatís true, however, then legacy kids already have an advantage over others without us making it worse. In 2003, the Journal reported that legacy kids at Harvard had a 40 percent admission rate, compared to 11 percent for everyone else. Itís like Mike Tyson goes into the ring with a small child, and the Ivies are yelling ďItís not fair! That kid gets to use both hands!Ē
The utter ridiculousness of legacy admissions is not even really debatable. Itís a concept born out of racism and parochial fear, and it remains retrogressive in nearly every sense. It may cost us some money, but Columbia has an opportunity here to do something big and truly progressive. Oxford and Cambridge donít practice legacy admissions, and although it has lost them some funding, they havenít exactly become safety schools. If legacy kids deserve to go here, let them get in on their own. Otherwise, youíre not fooling anyone. Not even the dumb students.
J.D. Porter is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and comparative literature. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/node/26636