Editorial: Abolish legacy status as an admission consideration

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A recent Herald poll and article reveal that over half of students disagree with the consideration of legacy status in Brown admission. We stand with the majority of the student population against this consideration and believe the Admission Office ought to eliminate it during its next policy review.

Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 claims that the consideration of legacy maintains a sense of community wherein alums will donate their time and money to the school. It is certainly no surprise that accepting legacy students encourages their parents to contribute to the endowment, but to claim that this maintains a sense of community is a poor argument. Such a sense of community might also be maintained by responding to the current student body’s beliefs about appropriate admission practices. Further, the community cohesion argument was historically used as a rationale to exclude Jews, black students and other minority groups, and it is no more convincing today.

As for the fiscal argument, we of course recognize that legacy admission remains in place for the sake of the endowment, but we do not accept this as an appropriate justification for its consideration. The same justification could be used to give admission preference to applicants who come from wealthier families, to applicants who intend to study economics rather than English or even to white applicants. One could argue that such practices would improve our endowment, but surely that does not mean we ought to follow them.

The consideration of legacy status is poor policy for a number of reasons. First, it gives an upper hand in the admission process to those that are already privileged compared to the average non-legacy student. A legacy student likely was raised in a household where at least one parent received an elite college education and is more likely to be of a higher socioeconomic status. Further, while some legacy students today may be minorities, the vast majority are white and wealthy. The continuation of this policy, then, perpetuates the discriminatory policies that were firmly in place in past generations. We find it unsettling that while affirmative action policies that seek to improve the chance of admission for minority students are frequently challenged in the media and in the courts, legacy policies that also improve the chance of admission go largely unconsidered and are not even well documented. Brown, for example, does not track (or, more likely, does not report) the admission rate of legacy students.

This is not intended to criticize the presence of students who are children of alums, who contribute greatly to our school and are incredibly successful, in and out of the classroom, in their own right. If preference for children of alums were eliminated, the student body would still likely disproportionately be composed of legacy students who were raised by parents with fond memories of their college years. Michele Hernandez, college consultant and former assistant director of admission at Dartmouth, suggests in the Herald article that if people understood that legacy plays only a small role in admission decisions, they probably would not care so much about its consideration. She and other critics find the policy unfair, largely for the same reasons we do, but she still believes that other critics have a tendency to overstate its impact. The consideration of legacy may not be particularly egregious, though with the lack of transparency it is difficult to be certain. Nonetheless, it constitutes an unfair admission policy that perpetuates past discrimination and elevates students who are already privileged. It is time to respond to the majority of Brown students’ beliefs and abolish legacy status as an admission consideration.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

  • Ester Kirche

    Admission Officers do not have knowledge of the world necessary for them to do their jobs. (If they did, they would not have made the jobs so complicated.) So they do dumb things, in dumb ways. Then they talk about things that they do in even dumber ways. I suppose somebody has to do this job, because professors and trustees don’t want to have anything to do with this. So it reinforces the self-importance that these admission officers have.

  • mxm123

    Wealth is the new legacy.

    • SipsTea

      Wealth is the old legacy. Nothing is new here.

  • johnlonergan

    Admissions has the most important task at Brown. We should do all we can to support evaluating millions, not just the 30,000 whose applications come in over the transom. Let’s search for the best and the brightest around the world.

    I went to Brown, and my daughter didn’t. She got a good education at UNM and Thunderbird. Did I wish she’d have gotten into Brown as a “Legacy”? No, Brown wasn’t the right choice for her.

    Open the gates, Brown! Quit looking so narrowly at children of Brown grads! Find the next Albert Einstein or Nelson Mandela, and admit them!

  • Ry

    If they implemented this policy, donations would go down by at least 50% within a year. You know what that means? Less financial aid.

    Brown relies on the donations of alums to support those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford Brown.

  • Alum from the 90s

    Firstly, the “majority” you say that support a policy change is only a small majority and hardly what one would consider a mandate from the student body. Secondly, there is only a small minority of students who are legacies, and I reckon that most of these candidates are just as qualified for admissions as the broader applicant pool (maybe due to genetics, private education, or other factors contributing, but qualified nonetheless). Thirdly, the practical world in which we live in shows that even a small advantage towards legacies, even if it is just a tie breaker, increases contributions which in turn pay significantly for financial aid, which would mostly go towards non legacy applicants.

    I agree that no candidate should be given a spot only or primarily because one is a legacy applicant, but if she or he is fully qualified academic and extracurricular-wise, then I am fine with the ‘tie going to the runner’ so long as Brown does have an ‘accepted pool’ that parallels to a decent extent the wider diversity of our global society.

    • Current student

      You’re deluding yourself if you think the advantage given to legacies amounts to “tie going to the runner.” Legacy admit rates are approximately double the regular admit rate. that’s not “tie going to the runner”

      • Mikey d

        You neglect that there could neither factors causing the higher acceptance rate for legacies. First off, Brown students are smart. It would be logical that their children would also be intelligent. 2nd, a Brown education opens up so many doors in life that alums are probably generally of a higher socioeconomic class than the parents of other applicants. That would give legacies another set of advantages as well.

      • Guest

        Current Student – you need to read better. The Alum from the 90s said he or she would be fine with “tie goes to the runner”, not that this is what is currently happening. I hope your comprehension is better when you are doing academic work at Brown.