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Legacy preferences

Ryan Williams | Thursday, November 4, 2010

With the 2010 football season essentially flushed down the toilet and the signature event of this year’s Notre Dame Forum a thing of the past, it is time for the administration to focus on their next great challenge: sorting through the applications of thousands of high school seniors in order to form the Class of 2015.

The admissions office faces no easy task, for this current crop of applicants is sure to be one of the most talented and gifted ever to apply to the University. The members of the Class of 2015 will likely have higher average GPAs and higher test scores than any other class before them. If recent years are any indication, it will also be one of the most heterogeneous classes that Notre Dame has ever seen, due to the University’s strong commitment to increasing social, cultural and ideological diversity on campus.

Now in this regard, Notre Dame is hardly unique; indeed, across the nation nearly every major university is striving to maximize the diversity of its student body. In order to help achieve this, most universities have adopted the practice of varying their admission standards for students of different religious, racial or ethnic backgrounds.

A 2005 study by a pair of Princeton University sociologists determined that, at selective private research institutions in the United States, being black or Hispanic added the equivalent of about 200 points to an applicant’s SAT score (on a 1600 point scale). This has caused great consternation in the minds of many Americans for it seems to violate that fundamental principle that individuals should not be judged by the color of their skin.

Admittedly, I was originally quite skeptical of the whole notion of “diversity,” and did not see the need for it either. When I was denied admission to a top school in my senior year of high school, I remember feeling angry and upset that people who I deemed to be “less qualified” than myself had been admitted to the school simply on account of their skin color or religious background. What I failed to recognize at the time was that being “qualified” wasn’t simply a matter of having the better ACT score.

The responsibility of every university is to provide the best possible environment for its students to learn in, but that does not always mean collecting the group of people with the highest GPA. There is tremendous value in diversity as well, in bringing together new ideas, new perspectives, and new outlooks on the world.

The United States did not become a great country on the backs of a small group of homogenous white Protestants. It was only through the influx of a diverse group of immigrants from every corner of the world, who brought with them the spirit of ingenuity and innovation, that this country was able to develop into the great nation that it is today.

Our society needs to be constantly challenged by new ways of thinking in order to grow and make progress, and we too often fail to recognize that promoting diversity is the most effective way of ensuring this. That is why we at Notre Dame should be thrilled that campus diversity is on the rise (even if at times it appears to be advancing slowly). We as a community will be better off as a result.

In light of all this, however, it is important to consider another policy of the University admissions offices that does not provide such positive benefits; namely, granting preference to the children of alumni.

Unlike promoting diversity, legacy preference does nothing to enhance the cultural or social atmosphere of a university. And yet, it is a widespread and firmly entrenched practice across the country. The same Princeton study that determined the effect of race and ethnicity on college admissions found that being the child of an alumnus added an equivalent 160 points to a student’s application.

But what is the rationale behind this? Why do these students deserve that extra boost?

Notre Dame claims that almost all of its legacy students would have gotten in on their own merits. Then why have the policy at all? It only serves to discriminate against those candidates whose parents weren’t wealthy enough or smart enough to attend Notre Dame.

Applicants to this University should be judged on their own merits, not those of their parents. Unless we can provide a convincing explanation for how the University benefits by granting preference to the children of alumni, this policy needs to be abolished. (Full disclosure: Both the author’s parents attended the University of Notre Dame).

Ryan Williams is a sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.