The paper "The Debate Over Legacy Admissions: Rationality Or Ideology?" describes the synthesis of the debate over legacy admissions. Overall, these articles demonstrate that, though drawing on facts, the debate about university legacy admissions is essentially political and ideological in nature…
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USA Today (2007) notes that at Dickinson College (a liberal arts school), alumni provide 25% of its budget. Thomas and Shepard (2007) observe that in 2001, alumni provided 28% of the private donations to higher education, or almost $7 billion. Megalli (2007), on the other hand, has argued that these arguments are overblown, and that Harvard University earns an amount equivalent to alumni contributions through its $6.2 billion endowment in a little over two hours. At the heart of the debate, however, are the moral and constitutional arguments about the practice of legacy admissions. Megalli (2007) and DeKoven (2007) believe that legacy preferences undermine meritocracy, are unethical, and inherently unfair. USA Today (2007) and Thomas and Shepard (2007) disagree, arguing that a single standard of merit does not – indeed, should not – exist. Furthermore, Thomas and Shepard (2007) argue that admissions cannot be “fair” when the number of qualified applicants exceeds the available places. USA Today (2007) and Thomas and Shepard (2007) note many legitimate reasons for admitting applicants on more than academic scores: for example, to reinforce traditions, to attract gifted athletes, ensure broad geographic diversity or even “maintain a renowned a capella group” (USA Today, 2007, p. 232). More pointedly, Megalli (2007) and DeKoven (2007) argue that legacy admissions are racially discriminatory. Megalli (2007) cites a US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) report on Harvard that found that legacy preference disproportionately helps white applicants because, as DeKoven (2007) notes, the playing field did not start to become even for persons of color and women until the passage of federal...
On the other hand, USA Today argues that pressuring universities to end legacy admissions for these reasons logically leads one to question a university’s right and freedom to reflect its unique character, to reinforce traditions, to control its autonomous financing, and to create a stimulating and diverse campus in accordance with the law. Thomas and Shepard further note that universities must also exercise their First Amendment rights, as summarized by Justice Felix Frankfurter, “to determine for itself, on academic grounds, who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study”. The existing facts cannot settle this debate because the fundamental facts are not agreed upon, or and other facts are used selectively. It seems as though facts are mobilized to support pre-existing dispositions, related to political ideology, rather than to arrive at reasoned conclusions. Political references throughout all four articles suggest this to be the case. Most directly, Thomas and Shepard argue that the legacy admissions issue is a “smoke screen”, politically blowing a negligible issue out of proportion, while neglecting issues that have “vastly greater impact on vastly greater numbers of students”, government funding for primary and secondary schools, especially in poor school districts, where legacy admissions are not a primary issue. These articles do not provide confidence that this debate can move far beyond ideological and political commitments.
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