Legacy admissions for colleges is a distinguished-sounding name for the longstanding unfair practice of making it easier for the children of alumni to get in.
It's the old-boys'-and-girls' club, where sons and daughters of the establishment go to the head of the line ahead of other applicants with otherwise stronger profiles, weighing academics, extracurriculars and diversity. Most private colleges use it (as do many public schools); so rare are the exceptions, even in this era of social justice awakening, that they make headlines when one drops the practice.
Among prominent universities, two notable exceptions are MIT and Caltech, the nation's premier science academies. Mike Bloomberg, a public school kid from Medford, Mass., who got into Johns Hopkins not because of his dad's schooling but because of his brains, later gave his alma mater billions, allowing Hopkins to abandon legacy admissions.
New to the club of the non-clubiness is Amherst College. But the legacy-rejectors are still in a slimmest minority.
Admission officers value legacy admissions because it helps them shape the incoming class with greater certainty. Offering a spot to a kid of an alum is more likely to see that kid matriculate (that's a college-level word) than a newcomer. Surely it also helps attract donor money; a mom or dad may be likelier to give money to the alma mater if he or she thinks it'll help the next generation matriculate — or, at least admissions offices probably think that's the case.
That's no justification to give the in-crowd a leg up. We're not thrilled with race-based affirmative action; we'd prefer to give a boost to the economically underprivileged, and to first-generation college kids. But even pure race-based preferences, which aim to diversify student populations, make more sense than legacy admissions.
The anti-legacy movement must gain momentum. It should start with schools coming clean about their admissions rates for children of alumni and everyone else. Stop playing cute. Disclose the advantage you give based on blood so everyone can see the mockery you make of a supposed meritocracy.