Legacy admissions are critical at Yale for preserving tradition

To the Editor:

While Sahm Adrangi ’03 investigates one particular side of the issue of legacy admissions candidates (“The Immorality of Legacy in Deciding Yale Admissions,” 11/6), he fails to properly acknowledge several things. Not all Yale legacies come from rich, upper middle-class families. Though Yalies (and graduates of other top schools) have a high rate of financial success, certainly not all of them are rich enough to donate the money that would be required to influence admissions decisions. I, for one, am a legacy student — my grandfather went to Yale — but he hadn’t donated a cent since the 1970s (when the Yale School of Medicine rejected my aunt). Of the other legacy students I personally know at Yale, most of them come from fairly middle-class backgrounds, much like the majority of the Yale population. Furthermore, Adrangi’s theory that legacy admissions are motivated by financial gain discounts the fact that many public universities (which don’t seek nearly the private funding of institutions like Yale) also have legacy admissions policies. Adrangi assumes that financial gain on behalf of the University is the sole motive behind legacy admissions.

Legacy status, however, is also designed to foster tradition, which Adrangi confuses with elitism. Though the two are often connected — and admittedly were in the 1960s version of legacy admissions — it is not necessary that they be. Tradition, however, can be personal and immaterial, whereas elitism often is not. There is something very powerful about knowing that I eat in the same dining halls, have lectures in the same classrooms, and study in the same library in which my grandfather ate, had class, and studied over 50 years ago. There is something equally powerful about looking down the road and hoping that my children, or grandchildren, too, will enjoy the same opportunity. The other day, I sat next to my grandfather (who is enrolled in the alumni auditing program) during a Greek history lecture in which professor Donald Kagan suggested that our world has lost much of the familial continuity that the ancient world once had. As a result we are often less invested in the institutions that surround us. Legacy admissions — both in legacy applicants and in many current Yale students — help to foster a sense of familial continuity and tradition that would otherwise be lost.

David Peters ’05

November 7, 2002