New York Times: It Ain't Over Yet

Texas A&M Ban on ‘Legacies’

Fuels Debate on Admissions
By GREG

WINTER
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

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.”

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.

Other

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

nonacademic criteria.

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.

Even ardent

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

legacies.

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

sense.”

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

it.

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

years.

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

again.

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

aggressive.

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