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Legacy of bias

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 24, 2010

Legacy of Bias

http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/set/print/news/2010/09/22/legacy
September 22, 2010

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When college officials talk about the extra help they provide to applicants who are alumni children (and it’s rare to get them to talk about the topic outside of alumni circles), they tend to say a few things: that the preferences are modest, just an extra “tip” for some well-qualified applicants; that alumni children likely would have had a much greater chance than others of being admitted even without the preference; and that such modest boosts are a small price to pay for the spirit of community and philanthropy created by multigenerational ties to a college.

What if none of that is true?

What if the alumni preferences are significant? What if significant numbers of these alumni children wouldn’t have gotten in anyway? And what if — contrary to conventional wisdom — alumni preferences have no impact on alumni giving? Those what-ifs are all true, according to a book being published and released today by the Century Foundation (and distributed by the Brookings Institution Press). The book is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers arguing that much of what colleges have said over the years about alumni admissions preferences isn’t true — and that they amount to the book’s title: Affirmative Action for the Rich.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, editor of the volume and an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, believes that the time is ripe for American society to re-examine and eliminate alumni preferences. Why now? He noted, and chapters of the book document, that the highly competitive nature of elite college admissions has focused scrutiny on why applicants are or are not admitted. Further, the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift Kahlenberg expects to spread), he says, makes it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” Finally, he noted, “we are going through a populist moment in this country, where there is anger at illegitimate preferences or unfair advantages for wealthy people, and it seems to me that this issue is one that’s plainly unfair and Americans get that.”

The book offers legal reasons — such as those argued in two law review articles in 2008

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