Texas A&M Ban on ‘Legacies’
Fuels Debate on Admissions
New York Times
Published: January 13, 2004
Last week, Texas A&M
abolished its preferential admission policy for legacies, the relatives of alumni, calling it an
“obvious inconsistency” in a system that is supposedly based on merit alone. Yet the move has hardly
ended the furor swirling around the university’s admissions policies.
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
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
Texas A&M’s decision underscores the volatile relationship between affirmative
action and legacy preferences. While one has been the center of intense legal struggles, the other has
often been cited as no less discriminatory but scarcely challenged in courts.
public universities, like the University of Georgia, have eliminated their legacy programs in recent
years, in part to ensure that if affirmative action is not being applied, then neither are other
Senator John Edwards of North Carolina has made the issue part of
his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying legacy programs give an “unfair
advantage” to those who do not need it.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of
Massachusetts, has also introduced legislation to require universities to put out detailed statistics
on the race and income of the students who benefit from the practice.
opponents of affirmative action often condemn legacy programs, arguing that they perpetuate the same
kind of advantages as considerations of race.
Edward Blum, a senior fellow at the Center
for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, described the legacy programs as “bad
educational policy,” saying, “It smacks of elitism.”
Robert M. Gates, the president
of Texas A&M, acted last week after local lawmakers, members of Congress and community groups held news
conferences across the state to denounce the university’s preferential treatment of
The outcry came because the university decided last month against using
affirmative action in admissions. That left it in the unusual position of rejecting race as a factor
while still allowing family ties to influence the admissions process.
“To be so adamant
about race not being a factor and then to have such a large legacy program is hypocrisy,” said State
Senator Rodney Ellis, Democrat of Houston. “It’s just so blatantly inconsistent that it defies common
At highly selective universities, several nonacademic factors are usually
considered simultaneously, including race, geography, legacy and sometimes even how generous a family
may later be to the university.
At Texas A&M, most students are accepted on the strength
of their academics, Dr. Gates said. He also said that while some alumni were frustrated by the
elimination of the legacy program, most understood the reasons for doing away with
In each of the last two years, more than 300 white students were ultimately admitted
to the university because their family members had gone there, The Houston Chronicle reported this
month. That is nearly as many as the total number of black students admitted to the university in those
Because of a 1996 appeals court ruling known as Hopwood, universities in Texas
were barred from considering race in admissions until a Supreme Court ruling in June allowed the
practice. Since then, several of Texas A&M’s competitors have begun to look at race once
But Dr. Gates contends that his recent revamping of the university’s admissions
policies were intended to increase diversity on campus. More students will be evaluated on the basis of
their hardships, experiences and leadership potential than before, he said, and outreach in
predominantly minority areas will be particularly