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.