Op-eds, Opinions

Young ’19.5: Vote yes on #FullDisclosure

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Today, the Brown community will be faced with a fundamental choice. Between 12 p.m. Tuesday and 12 p.m. Thursday, we will be able to vote on not only a new set of candidates for the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Undergraduate Finance Board, but also on a ballot referendum to re-examine the use of legacy preference in the admissions process.

Specifically, the referendum will read: “Should Brown University disclose all internally written admissions policies and disaggregated data about legacy treatment, and charge a joint committee of students, alums and administrators to reexamine the use of legacy status in the admissions process?”

Through conversations with hundreds of students, the #FullDisclosure team and I have found that there is a deep desire for clarity around the University’s use of legacy preference. We’ve met students who both agree and disagree with the use of legacy preference, but virtually every student we’ve talked to concluded that we need to see all the data to have a frank, critical and informed discussion.

But this discussion cannot occur unless we are critical of the University. And we have questions. For example, what is the acceptance rate of legacy applicants compared to the overall student body? How has the share of legacy students changed from year to year? How many legacy students receive financial aid? How many legacy students are eligible for Pell Grants? The appointment of a joint committee will allow a panel of engaged and committed members of the Brown community to re-examine the value that legacy preference brings to the University. By placing a call for transparency and the appointment of a joint committee directly on the ballot, students will be able to show their peers at Brown and nationwide that this is a key issue deserving of our attention.

We want #FullDisclosure.

And we have good reason to call for transparency. Legacy preference finds its roots in discrimination; it was originally conceived and used to prevent Jewish students from matriculating to elite universities. Secondly, there is no reason to believe that legacy preference brings financial value to the University. A study of the top 100 universities in the United States found that the “presence of legacy preference policies does not result in significantly higher alumni giving.” Another study looked at seven universities that abandoned legacy preference and found “no short-term measurable reduction in alumni giving as a result of abolishing legacy preferences,” as quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Lastly, the practice is unpopular. A Herald poll conducted in 2014 found that over half of students disagreed with the use of legacy preference, and a national poll conducted by Gallup found that 52 percent of people disagree with the use of legacy preference.

That being said, these points don’t make a case for abolishing legacy preference outright. But any policy that is historically prejudiced, that hasn’t been shown to bring universities money and that is unpopular deserves a second look.

And truly, re-examination and transparency are what this campaign is about. This is not an attack on individual students’ qualifications. This is not an attempt to antagonize the administration. This is not about getting rid of legacy preference. This campaign is a movement aiming to spark a conversation about educational opportunity.

The #FullDisclosure team is looking forward to continuing this conversation with the student body and the administration after the results of the referendum. Both grassroots momentum from student activists and support from the administration have been critical in institutionalizing past efforts for fairness in admissions practices, like #NoApologies, the campaign to eliminate application fees for first-generation and low-income college applicants. We fundamentally believe that the future of our community should be determined by a thoughtful exchange of ideas and that we should follow the facts wherever they take us.

But first we need to open the discussion.

Vote Yes on #FullDisclosure.

Shawn Young ’19.5 is a leader of the #FullDisclosure movement at Brown and can be reached at shawn_young@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.