Thursday, August 28, 2008

Let's Make a Deal

The Washington Times, of all places, has an editorial taking its conservative peers to task for being far more forgiving of legacy admissions than they are of affirmative action. The meritocratic arguments against AA are obviously stronger, if anything, when applied to legacies. Yet you don't see right-wing groups rushing to put initiatives banning the procedure on state ballots across the country.

A lot of times I've talking to conservative opponents of AA who rush to assure me "I oppose legacy preferences too," as if that's some sort of ward against unfairness. I say, if you're truly concerned about establishing this pure meritocracy, an excellent gesture of good faith would be to work on barring legacy admissions first. Regardless of your opinion of how affirmative action relates to the broader goal of equal opportunity, its clear that if changes have to be made, the burden should not initially fall on the already disadvantaged. Carleton, for example, gives preferential admission to wealthy students in the 15% of our admissions process that is not need-blind. Clearly, that's got to go before we even start thinking about tinkering with race-based affirmative action.

I'll be honest -- I'm not categorically opposed to some legacy admissions. I think that they help maintain institutional memory and can strengthen the broader college community. Carleton, I feel, is benefited by the large number of second and third generation Carls who really help emphasis to current and prospective students the loyalty this place inspired. But that is not, in the conservative mind, a sufficiently "meritocratic" argument, any more than the benefits of racial diversity is.

The point is that liberals are, I think quite reasonably, concerned that this push for "meritocracy" will be applied only against Blacks, Latinos, and other marginalized minorities. It will not be applied against the wealthy or the well-connected. Even if conservatives feel some vague unease about such admissions standards, they will never organize or pressure to stop it. A good way -- normatively and politically -- to diffuse that anxiety would be to lead the charge against those who can most take the hit.

So let's make a deal. Attack legacy and wealth preferences first. Then we can talk about what to do about race-based affirmative action.

Via Ta-Nehisi Coates.


Cycle Cyril said...

The fallacy of your argument is your assumption that AA benefits the disadvantaged. Overall it demeans the recipients and debases their achievements so that whatever step up they get they are ultimately pushed down.

The only beneficiaries are those who promote such programs because they then are deemed "good" but more importantly they become the dispensers (indirectly) of patronage and thus amass power and/or influence.

As for legacy, having gone through this process with my kids three times over the past several years, it only becomes a leverage if you donate to the school (in whatever amount the school deems appropriate - and it might not only be in money though that is the primary desire of most schools) and then only to serve as a tie breaker (unless you donate 6,7 or more figures).

Further schools will only consider legacy if you apply early decision, if you are in the general pool of applicants it has no weight. In other words if you don't make the school a priority the school wont make the applicant a priority.

Finally legacy has become a method for the schools to obtain additional contributions from the alumni. For a number of schools this is a vital source of money to pay for their bloated tenured staff or enlarge their endowments.

Superdestroyer said...

How about passing a Constitutional Amendment to make separate and unequal treatment based upon race legal and then everyone can have a conversation about the best way to administrater a racial spoils system. Until you change the consistituion to make discrimination legal, please stop with the nonsense about white privledge or legacy admissions.

Besides, if you looked at the article referenced by the Washingotn Times, you would have seen that being black was much more important to admission than being a legacy.