Admissions upholds legacy preference

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    The dean of admissions defended legacy admission despite a legal analysis recently published that argues legacy preferences at colleges and universities are illegal.

    The analysis published in the Santa Clara Review based its argument on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which protects citizens from discrimination based on ancestry, and the 14th Amendment, which protects citizens’ civil rights against infringement by any state.

    According to the analysis, legacy admission, or giving preference to relatives and children of alumni, contradicts “the fundamental values of a society founded on equality and committed to social mobility based on talent and merit” and argues legacy preferences are “unlawful in both public and private universities.”

    Ray Brown, dean of admissions, said legacy admission relieves some of the pressures on the admission office during the admission process.

    “One of the pressures that is on us is that we don’t want to extend a lot of offers to kids who have no interest in TCU,” Brown said.

    Brown said online applications have allowed more students to apply to schools they aren’t really interested in.

    “It becomes increasingly important for us to try to figure out who really is interested in coming here,” Brown said. “If a student has a parent who is a TCU alum, then we know the student probably has a greater understanding of TCU than most of our applicants.”

    Brown said this helps the university estimate its admission rate, which is important because it helps determine a school’s ranking.

    Brown said that although legacy is something that’s in an applicant’s favor, “it is not going to overcome a mediocre record.” He said he estimates legacy has about a 5 percent pull in the consideration of a student’s admission to the university.

    Parents who have gone to the university believe in the university enough to send their children, Brown said. This results in parents getting involved in the life of the university, he said.

    “If they give their time, if they come back for alumni events, if they come support football and basketball and baseball games, if they volunteer to do college fairs for the admission office, volunteer to do high school visits for the admission office, volunteer to do phone calls for us, that’s the kind of involvement that I am really interested in,” Brown said.

    Brown said there are certain attributes an applicant may or may not have that make a compelling case for admission, and legacy is one of those attributes. The ability of a student as a dancer, a musician, a scholar or an athlete might also be one of those attributes, Brown said.

    Brown said these attributes help decide who gets admitted when comparing applicants who are both evenly qualified.

    According to the university, TCU does not track the number of legacy students enrolled.

    Steve Shadowen, an attorney and one of the authors of the analysis, said he wrote the analysis because he had learned about legacy admission after reading about constitutional law and provisions against nobility. He said he put the two together and decided he wanted to get rid of legacy admission.

    Shadowen said the next step is to start with some test cases to create a precedence. He said he would like to see no schools using legacy preferences in the next five to seven years, but that he doubts he would be involved in the actual cases.

    Sheldon E. Steinbach, a partner in the postsecondary education practice at Dow Lohnes, a law firm in Washington, said nobody has ever advanced the line of argument as the analysis has, but he said he personally didn’t find it persuasive.

    Steinbach said the argument seemed irrelevant, and he thinks it is unlikely to change the culture of legacy admission. He said there will always be a way of practicing legacy admission because the practice would simply be driven further underground.

    Steinbach said a case against legacy admission may or may not succeed in court, but he thinks it will be a long time before the issue is solved.