July 06, 2023
After an initial burst of indignation at the Supreme Court for taking on the unpleasant task of informing college admissions offices that race discrimination is unconstitutional, the media’s main focus quickly shifted to their favorite topic: blaming white men.
True, it was going to be difficult to turn a case finally ending 50 years of discrimination against whites into a story about how whites are oppressing blacks, but you don’t know our media. The fact that the plaintiffs in this case were Asian didn’t even slow them down.
Within hours, everybody was talking about “legacies.” The children of alumni are apparently the ne plus ultra of whiteness. The New York Times called them “white, wealthy and well-connected.” And that’s how “legacy” entered the vocabulary as an epithet for white men, joining “frat boys,” “rich,” “privileged,” “Chads” and “lacrosse players.”
Unfortunately, much like #BlackLivesMatter, this latest orgy of hatred for whites is going to end up hurting black people the most.
We have been assured that preferences for the children of alumni are exactly like racial preferences for blacks and Hispanics — except given to whites. Thus, Kenny Xu, one of the plaintiffs in the affirmative action case, sneered that preferences for legacies “disproportionately privilege white applicants.” (These aren’t your allies, white people.)
Then, days after the decision was announced, race activists filed a complaint against Harvard for giving preference to the children of alumni, saying that legacy admissions have “nothing to do with an applicant’s merit” and were “an unfair and unearned benefit.”
Let’s look at how big a “benefit” being a legacy actually is.
Comparing three preferences given to college applicants — legacies, athletes and blacks/Hispanics — the children of alumni got the smallest boost, according to a 2007 Princeton study of 4,000 students entering 28 selective colleges in 1999. A majority of legacy admissions had SATs above their college’s average. Even those below the average were only slightly below it, 47 points out of a possible 1,600.
By contrast, 77% of blacks and Hispanics had scores below their college’s average, and 70% of athletes did. Combined, their average gap was 108 points.
A 2009 Harvard study found that legacy applicants to the top 30 most selective colleges had a mean score 10 points higher on the reading SAT than non-legacy applicants and six points higher on the math SAT.
About a decade later, Naviance, a college software provider, examined 15,402 legacy applications from 2014-17 and found that 82% of legacy applicants have SAT or ACT scores at or above their colleges’ average for accepted students.
Apparently, the dumb kids of alumni don’t bother applying to their parents’ schools, and the smart kids are pressured into applying, even if their academic qualifications are good enough to get them into a better school.
The Harvard study also found that the legacy preference is strongest for applicants with perfect SAT scores. (In 2007, Harvard rejected more than a thousand applicants with perfect math SAT scores; Princeton rejected thousands of students with perfect GPAs.)
For the past week, the media have bombarded us with data claiming exactly the opposite — that being a legacy confers a huge advantage, comparable to that given to blacks and Hispanics simply for being black or Hispanic. You will notice that these claims never refer to the “children of alumni” in isolation. Legacies are invariably thrown in with other, completely different categories, like “whose parents donated money,” “athletes” or “children of university employees.”
“Most colleges have long resisted eliminating a much-criticized admission practice: giving a boost to the children of alumni, donors and faculty.” — The New York Times, June 30, 2023
“[One] analysis found that 43% of Harvard’s white admits in 2019 were legacy students, recruited athletes, children of faculty and staff or were applicants affiliated with donors.” — USA Today Online, July 3, 2023
“The records revealed that 70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white.” — The Associated Press, July 3, 2023
Grouping dissimilar things together can give you any statistic you want. Dozens of humans are killed every year by grizzly bears and Dachshunds.
The grizzly bear in these lists is “donor-related.”
I hold no brief for legacies, but I do know that I.Q. is heritable, and the kids of alumni are in a wholly different category from the kids of big donors. One is Aage Bohr, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics 53 years after his father, Niels, did. (They are among seven parent/child Nobel winners in the sciences.)
The other is Jared Kushner, whose father bought his kid’s way into Harvard, despite his not being remotely qualified, as a “track 3” high school student. (By the way, Republicans, your outrage at Hunter Biden’s criminality would be more credible if you ever mentioned the $2 billion Jared got from the Saudis.)
If Harvard didn’t discriminate on the basis of race, instead of a student body that is about 43% white, 19% Asian, 11% black and 10% Hispanic, it would be 43% Asian, 38% white, 0.7% black, and 2.4% Hispanic, a 2013 study by the university found.
If Harvard didn’t discriminate in favor of legacies, the average SAT score of its undergrads would be lower, as some perfect-scoring alum kids go elsewhere.
As much fun as you’re having bashing whites, media, the boost given to legacies is not in the same universe as the preferences given to black and Hispanic students. On the other hand, judging by Jared Kushner, the preference given to the kids of big donors is every bit as humongous as the affirmative action “plus factor,” but it would take the U.S. Marines to get colleges to cough up that information.
Ironically, getting rid of preferences for legacies will hurt black applicants the most. Recall that colleges have been giving gigantic racial preferences to black applicants since the 1960s, which means we have more than half a century of black graduates whose children and grandchildren are … guess what? Legacies!
Children of alums who got in to college on the basis of anything other than merit, as a group, will tend to be less qualified than the children of alums who got in on merit.
Get rid of the legacy preference, and it’s the kids of affirmative action alums who won’t get in.