In a USA Today column today, John Edwards once again eloquently assails legacy preferences as virtually un-American.
In America, the kind of family you come from should never determine your destiny.
All children in America should have the same opportunities — wherever they come from or whatever their backgrounds….
Equal opportunity is the birthright of every American. Legacy preferences get in the way. It’s time for them to go.
In John Edwards’ America, however, it is apparently acceptable for race to “determine your destiny,” for students to have greater or lesser opportunities because of their race, and for the birthright of “equal opportunity” to co-exist comfortably with the practice of judging individuals of different races by different standards.
Overstated? I don’t think so. Edwards not only supports “diversity,” but along with some of the most liberal Senators (Daschle, Kennedy, Clinton, Corzine, Durbin, Kerry, Schumer, Lautenberg, Landrieu, Stabenow) he co-signed an amicus brief in Gratz supporting the University of Michigan’s policy of awarding 20 admission points (out of 150 needed) to minority applicants on the basis of their race alone. (That same policy awarded only 4 points to legacies.)
Someone should ask Edwards why legacy discrimination is offensive but racial discrimination is not.
I have often noted the irony of today’s preferentialists rejecting the argument of Reconstruction Radicals and thus echoing the argument of the Plessy majority when they reject Justice Harlan’s assertion that the Constitution is colorblind. Here is one example (“Do Preferentialists Prefer Plessy?”), and here’s another:
It has often been said that in America conservatives stand on the shoulders of dead revolutionaries, but it is no less true that today’s liberals depend on the success of dead racists. In that regard, I have often pointed to the irony of contemporary liberals celebrating the failure of Reconstruction radicals to write colorblindness into the 14th Amendment and hence their (the liberals’) rejection of Justice John Marshall Harlan’s dissenting view, in Plessy, that “our Constitution is colorblind.”
The amicus brief that Edwards and friends signed supporting racial bonus points provides a perfect example of today’s liberals echoing dead racists. Their brief, on page 5, asserts that neither the 14th Amendment nor Title VI of the Civil Rights Act bar all racial discrimination.
This is because the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment did not intend to foreclose government consideration of race per se. See Jed Rubenfeld, Affirmative Action, 107 YALE L.J., 427, 430-431 (1997) (collecting explicitly race-conscious statutes enacted by Reconstruction Congress; ANDREW KULL, THE COLOR-BLIND CONSTITUTION 67 (1992) (citing evidence that in drafting the Fourteenth Amendment, the Thirty-ninth Congress rejected proposed “color-blindness” language)…. [Emphasis in original]
True, but Edwards et al. do not mention what Kull demonstrates so convincingly — that the efforts of the Radicals to have the 14th Amendment bar all distinctions based on race failed precisely because their opponents wanted to preserve such things as segregated schools.
It is, or should be, one of the great embarrassments of modern liberalism that in order to justify racial preferences it has identified itself with the doctrinal holding of Plessy, which in turn was based on the failure of the Reconstruction Radicals to have the 14th Amendment bar all racial discrimination. Not to mention the additional irony of this being an interpretation that relies on original intent, an interpretive stance liberals usually reject.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a long article today on the rising debate over legacies. (Link may require subscription.)
I’ll not summarize the article here, since by now these arguments are familiar to anyone who’s gotten this far in this blog, but I do want to mention a couple of interesting items.
• The University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia
offer little extra consideration to in-state applicants who are related to alumni. Doing so, officials there believe, would be unfair to state taxpayers. But those universities do give legacy applicants a substantial edge when weighing applicants from other states against each other.
John A. Blackburn, dean of admission at Virginia, notes that “we are down to just 9 percent of our budget coming from the state” and calls the legacy admissions policy “very important” to the university’s efforts to raise money from other sources. Students who are admitted as legacies, he says, are much more likely than non-legacy students to contribute to the university later in life. In Virginia’s last major fund-raising campaign, which ended four years ago, 65.4 percent of legacy alumni donated, giving an average of nearly $34,800 each, compared with just 41.1 percent of non-legacy alumni, giving an average of about $4,100 each.
Wow! I suspect UVa gets a smaller percentage of its budget from the commonwealth of Virginia than some private universities do from the feds. UVa’s numbers do indicate that legacy loyalty is not a figment of white racist imaginations; legacies really do give more money.
• Ivy League legacies:
About 10 to 15 percent of the students on most Ivy League campuses are the children of alumni. Among such institutions, Harvard University accepts 40 percent of its undergraduate legacy applicants, compared with about 11 percent of its overall applicant pool. William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, says that the average SAT score for Harvard’s legacy admittees is just two points below that of all of its students, and that the legacy policy helps raise funds that “make it possible for Harvard to admit many students from moderate or low-income backgrounds.”
The debate over the fairness of legacy preferences has been sparked, of course, by the ongoing debate over the fairness of racial preferences. We have a good deal of data on the extent of the preference involved in racial preferences but relatively little about the actual degree of preference given to legacies. This information strikes me as crucially necessary to an informed debate.
The fact that Harvard admits 40% of its legacy applicants compared to 11% of its non-legacy applicants, standing alone, says absolutely nothing about the nature and size of the boost given to legacies. Knowing, as we now do, that the average SAT score of legacy applicants there is only two points lower than the non-legacy average, however, suggests that the actual preference given to legacies, if any, is quite slight. At Middlebury College, as I discussed here, the legacy SAT average was 33 points higher than the non-legacy average.
Of course, insofar as legacy preferences are unfair even a tiny preference is unfair. But it’s still useful to know what we’re talking about.