State legislature to propose legacy admissions ban, Yale signals opposition
The Connecticut state legislature is set to propose a ban on legacy preference for both public and private universities, which would be first in the nation if passed. As legislators and other colleges seem to be warming to the idea, Yale has dug in its heels in opposition.
Tim Tai, Senior Photographer
The Connecticut legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee will raise a bill in its legislative session beginning next week that would ban legacy admissions at both public and private colleges in the state.
Yale opposed a similar bill –– HB 5034 –– in 2022. In a recent email to the News, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan reiterated his concern about the autonomy of universities and the efficacy of banning legacy preference.
“I am against legislation that interferes with a university’s freedom to set its own admissions policies,” Quinlan wrote. “Yale College has become much more diverse over the past ten years … without changes to other admissions policies and priorities,” he added, pointing to Yale’s efforts this year to update its selection process.
Quinlan cited increases in the diversity of the first-year class in the past decade of a 130-percent increase in the number of Pell-eligible students, a 115-percent increase in the number of first-generation students and a 96-percent increase in the number of students of color.
Public and private colleges alike vehemently opposed the 2022 bill, and it died in the House chamber. But since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the use of affirmative action in college admissions this summer, Connecticut lawmakers have warmed to the idea of influencing college admissions through legislation.
“I think that the argument to ban legacy admissions is much stronger after the Supreme Court decision,” Senator Derek Slap, co-chair of the committee, said. “A lot of members of the committee are very interested in this topic and fairness in college admissions.”
The University of Connecticut, the largest college in the state, opposed the bill two years ago despite already having done away with considering legacy status in their own admissions process. It cited concerns that any government-level regulation of college admissions would be a slippery slope. The university told CT Insider last week that this time around, they would be “neutral” on the proposal.
In 2022, Quinlan expressed in written testimony about the previously proposed bill that he does not believe a statewide ban on legacy admissions is the right way to increase accessibility. He argued that while universities could consider whether to bar legacy preference at their own institutions, a state restriction may set precedent for “other intrusions on academic freedom.”
“Even without [legacy] preference, students with more resources will still have an advantage in college admissions, just as they have an advantage in securing a good job and in many other aspects of daily life. Instead, the state should support schools in their efforts to identify, recruit, and graduate low-income and first-generation students,” Quinlan wrote. “Yale has already realized a dramatic increase in the representation of these students on our campus in the past decade, without eliminating other admissions preferences.”
Slap and committee co-chair Rep. Gregory Haddad will together co-author the new bill. Slap and Haddad, as well as fellow committee Democrats Rep. Dominique Johnson and Rep. Hector Arzeno, all told the News that they would heavily weigh the testimonies of the universities or university-affiliated groups in their decisions.
“Everything’s on the table in terms of what the outcome is,” Haddad said. “It’s only fair for us to listen to everybody as we consider legislation.”
Johnson said that she is especially interested in the opinions of Yale affinity groups for alumni of color and Slap added that he hopes to hear testimony during the bill hearings from current Yale undergraduates and student groups.
The new bill will be proposed in a higher education committee that saw large-scale turnover last year. Thirty-two percent of the committee’s members –– seven of the total 22 –– were elected for the first time in 2023, including Johnson and Arzeno. These seven members were not part of the legislature when the first bill to ban legacy admissions was proposed and affirmative action has been overturned throughout their time in office.
“In the legislature, you can never assume that just because something passed before or didn’t pass that people are going to take the same direction,” Slap said of the new face of the legislature.
The upcoming bill comes as several other states have also begun to discuss bans on legacy preference.
On Jan. 23, the Virginia state Senate unanimously passed a bill that would ban legacy admissions at public universities only. The bill will soon face a vote on the House floor, and if passed, will be brought to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to sign into law. Legislators in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Massachusetts have discussed or presented similar bills.
Haddad speculated that Yale, while resistant to government regulation, might be more likely to end legacy admissions on its own terms.
“They would probably prefer to do it themselves and to be told by the legislature to end [legacy preference],” he said.
University President Peter Salovey revealed at a panel in October that Yale opened a self-review of its use of legacy preference. He said that Yale’s deliberations were focusing on whether the use of legacy preference was hampering the University’s ability to diversify its applicant pool.
In July, the Department of Education also opened a probe into legacy admissions, responding to a federal complaint alleging that Harvard is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by favoring white applicants.
The next legislative session will begin on Feb. 7.