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Calling their bluff

Those who support "affirmative action" in college admissions complain that those of us opposed to such racial preferences inconsistently appeal to "merit" as the appropriate guiding principle for admissions. That is, although opponents of affirmative action claim that merit should be the only factor, we don't object to preferences for athletes, legacies, etc. The accusation is somewhat unfair -- legacy status, for instance, is not a constitutionally protected class with a history of invidious discrimination attached to it -- but it has a grain of truth to it. Certainly if one is going to argue that colleges should, in order to fulfill their mission, admit the most academically qualified students, it's hard to defend extra preferences for those related to alumni of the schools in question.

In any case, the Powers That Be at Texas A&M decided that these criticisms had force; they've decided to end legacy preferences. But of course that doesn't satisfy supporters of race preferences, because that's not what they really wanted:

Local politicians had been outraged that the university continued to give special treatment to legacies, the vast majority of whom are white, while refusing to give the same consideration to minority applicants.

But ending preferences for legacies was not their goal. In fact, the same politicians said yesterday that scrapping the policy was a poor substitute for reinstating affirmative action as a way to achieve diversity on campus.

"This discussion is far from over," said State Representative Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston. "They act like they've done something for students of color by eliminating the legacy program. They have not. The new policy takes away the advantage of some students, but it does not remedy the obstacles faced by students of color and women."

Whoops. I think that falls under "be careful what you wish for." Or, at least, "be careful what you ask for." They thought that they could use legacy preferences as a lever to bring race preferences back; now they don't even have that lever.

Which leaves the following question: does the New York Times even pretend to screen their articles for bias? If so, explain the following quote thrown into the article:

Even ardent opponents of affirmative action often condemn legacy programs, arguing that they perpetuate the same kind of advantages as considerations of race.
"Even"? As if there's some sort of contradiction between opposing affirmative action and legacy programs?


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Comments (3)


At the risk of stating the obvious, legacy preferences are given to get donations for the school. It is quite self-serving. Parents who graduated from the school on the average give larger donations when their children are admitted. Of course, most of these legacy students would have been admitted anyway since they come from an affluent background and are therefore more likely to be good students. Affirmative action students, on the other hand, are neither good students nor come from a wealthy background. But why let these little annoying facts get in the way of your argument.


"The new policy takes away the advantage of some students, but it does not remedy the obstacles faced by students of color and women." Wait -- wasn't "having to compete against legacy students" one of those obstacles?

In any case, as much as I don't want to be associated with most supporters of Affirmative Action, I think it's OK when done right. See this article, which changed my mind on the issue.

Poop -- if that's your real name,

I think Julian Sanchez's article, which you link to, illustrates the non-hypocritical way to use racial preferences: come right out and say that
(a) individual merit isn't measured by test scores,
(b) individual merit shouldn't be the only criterion for admissions
(c) diversity of the student body is an important criterion,
(d) "lived race" is part of diversity,
(e) we're going to look at "lived race."

The problem is, even assuming that there's no constitutional objection, this is a fantasy. In real life, only the smallest of schools can actually operate under these parameters. No school with 10,000+ applicants a year -- let alone flagship campuses with 10,000+ matriculants a year -- can possibly consider each person individually. So they use scores, and then they give bonus points for fitting into the right diversity categories. They can't possibly evaluate whether this guy's "cultural background" contributes more than that guy's "cultural background," particularly not when evaluating these backgrounds based on an essay.

And of course, they wouldn't even if they could. The entire debate is dishonest. The point of affirmative action is not diversity. The point of affirmative action is to get a large enough minority enrollment not to be called racist. Diversity is just the code word used, because the Supreme Court (or Powell, anyway) had said in _Bakke_ that racial balancing for its own sake is NOT constitutional.


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