An Interview with Richard D. Kahlenberg: College and Other Issues

Michael F. Shaughnessy, via email

3) Why, in your mind is the book important, and why are the issues important?
There have been dozens of books written about racial affirmative action, but this is the first full-length book devoted to a larger affirmative action program based on lineage. The first part of the book includes chapters on the history of legacy preferences, their current use, whether they in fact help in fundraising (as supporters claim), and their impact on students of color. The second part of the book looks at legal theories and political reforms to curtail legacy preferences.
I think the issue is important because our public and private colleges and universities, which are heavily supported with taxpayer subsidies, are supposed to be serving the public interest. Instead, thousands of hard working students are bumped aside every year at selective institutions because of a system that discriminates based on ancestry. This practice is fundamentally unAmerican in my view.
4) How exactly do you define ” legacy ” and are there any specific colleges or universities that seem to hold ” legacy ” as a variable of importance?
Legacy preferences provide an admissions advantage to the children (and sometimes the grandchildren and siblings) of alumni. They are used at roughly 3/4 of selective national universities and virtually all selective liberal arts colleges. Among highly selective universities, controlling for grades and test scores, a given student’s chances of being admitted are 20 percentage points higher if they are legacies. We have a list of those national universities that use and do not use legacy preferences in a chapter by Chad Coffman that is available on our website.