A&M decision sparks debate on admissions debate



With Texas A&M’s announcement Jan. 9 that it would stop considering legacy status when admitting students, the debate on legacy admissions is open.

The announcement came after public officials criticized legacy admissions, which they saw as biased against ethnic minorities. Texas A&M also came under fire because it considered legacy status in admissions, but did not consider race. But when asked about race and legacy in admissions, other universities stood by their own policies.

Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw said Yale acknowledges an applicant’s legacy status and race.

“We are comfortable with our policies and do not anticipate [a] change,” Shaw said.

In a statement posted on the Texas A&M Web site, university President Robert Gates explained his decision.

“In an admissions process based on individual merit and potential contribution to the university community, prior affiliation with Texas A&M should not be a criterion,” Gates said.

The controversy arose when, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ultimately allowed the University of Michigan to use race as an admissions criterion, Texas A&M declared that it would continue not to consider race in admissions. Local and national legislators publicly criticized Texas A&M for allowing legacy status to influence admissions decisions while excluding race from consideration.

In his statement, Gates said he should have announced earlier that the university would stop considering legacy in admissions, and took responsibility for the fact that the university was so heavily criticized.

Under Texas A&M’s former system, legacies received up to four points on a 100-point scale. The Houston Chronicle reported Jan. 8 that 312 white students, compared with six black students, were admitted in 2003 because of their legacy status. The article said the students would not otherwise have been admitted.

In a Jan. 5 article, the Houston Chronicle quoted a Texas A&M official as saying that up to six points were awarded to applicants for their parents’ “lack of education.”

Texas A&M Deputy Director of Media Relations Lane Stephenson did not confirm or deny the statistics in the Houston Chronicle. He said he could “clarify” what was in Gates’ statement.

“The only thing that has changed is the legacy [policy],” Stephenson said.

Yale President Richard Levin said the University considers legacy a “positive factor” in admissions, but legacy students are “hardly” guaranteed admission.

“We’re a private institution. We rely on loyalty of our alumni for financial resources,” Levin said. “Philanthropically, students with a family history at the University are more generous givers.”

When asked about Texas A&M’s policy change, other universities reiterated their admissions policies but none explicitly criticized Texas A&M.

University of Michigan spokeswoman Julie Peterson said Michigan continues to consider race and legacy status.

Peterson said that Michigan used to have a 150-point system for admissions. Legacies received four points, while an underrepresented minority received 20. Because the Supreme Court ruled in its decision against such a point system, Peterson said the university now uses a more “holistic” system.

Peterson said the Supreme Court acknowledged Michigan’s right to pursue diversity as part of the school’s mission statement, but said she thinks the criteria Texas A&M uses — and how it pursues its institutional goals — should be its own decision.

“Different universities have different missions and different goals,” Peterson said. “It’s not for me to say what Texas A&M’s mission is.”

Brown News Service Director Mark Nickel said Brown considers race and legacy status in admissions.

“Each application is reviewed in a subjective and contextual way,” Nickel said in an e-mail. “Each applicant’s materials are considered on an individualized basis.”

The debate over legacies has even extended to the U.S. presidential race. Senator John Edwards’ campaign Web site said the candidate believes colleges and universities should eliminate legacy preferences but supports affirmative action.

“The ‘legacy’ admissions preferences stack the deck against students who may be the first in their family to go to college,” the site said.

Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said she thinks Yale’s admissions criteria should be judged on the basis of the classes of Yalies they procure.

“I’m very pragmatic here,” Trachtenberg said. “We’ve been doing well with those areas of admission. We have a vibrant student body. I had not thought about any changes being necessary.”

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