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Harris Don

"students learn from other students as well as from teachers, and those “best” who are knocked down a tier thus benefit their fellow students in the second-tier colleges to which they are admitted."

Charming. When you read such nonsense from a federal judge, you can imagine the insane rationalizations that judges employ in their day-to-day decision-making involving "diadvantaged" litigants.


Just another case where getting the gummint the hell out would improve the situation. When the gummint takes over health care and grocery stores, I expect Posner to make his usual specious analysis and justification of the inequities.


Two questions:

1) The only defense for race-based admissions is that black or latino students "are better than their high-school records or SAT scores suggest, because of a disadvantaged upbringing"? What about the value of having a student body from diverse backgrounds because being able to look at issues from different perspectives is vital to the learning process? After all, you do say "students learn from other students as well as from teachers" in the second-to-last paragraph.

2) The problem with inequality is the result of the federal government's deficit spending over the past two administrations? What does that have to do with the fact that, from 1980-2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1%?


Is there any way to argue that legacy admissions don't reinforce and solidify these gross disparities in wealth and income? The answer is not this:

"legacy admissions may actually reduce inequality, because the abler person pushed down to a lower-tier school may have lower lifetime earnings as a result, and if as is likely he is upper middle class, the reduction in his lifetime earnings will reduce inequality."

The "abler person" may be from an upper middle class family (say, top 10-15% of society), but is obviously not sufficiently well-heeled to have his/her parents buy his/her admission to the elite college. Disadvantaging the person from the top 12% in favor of the person from the top 0.5% is not reducing inequality.

Philip Rothman

Legacy admissions are an unambiguous assault on meritocracy. This is so regardless of the fact that the business models of elite institutions rely on them.

Mario Lucero

The main dispute I have with this argument is the proposition that bumping smarter students down a tier increases the efficiency of the system. In many areas, classes run most efficiently when most of the students are in a relatively tight intellectual band. Classes where there are too many "smarter students" move too quickly to effectively educate the rest. Conversely, classes that have many (or even a couple, if they participate extensively) slower learners end up moving at a pace that is inefficient for those who have extra learning capacity. This is the reason high schools have tracks (e.g. honors, college prep, standard, special needs), and these tracks are efficient.

I agree with Posner that the benefits of the system probably outweigh the costs. However, I don't believe that decreasing the homogenization of intellectual ability within a particular college, class, etc. has benefits that outweigh the educational costs.

Jim Houston

Some critics of college admissions processes have noted that from the college-bound pool of applicants, many colleges might be better off admitting candidates at random, rather than creating a high level of selectivity by looking at diversity, academics, athletics, community service, and other invented critieria. The real test is not always whether someone gets in but whether they can stay in a particular university past freshman year. The invention of the SAT was to establish a process to break open the closed nature of elite universities and to, at least, provide a leading indicator of possible performance and enhance a meritocratic approach to university admissions. Admissions officers who ignore the SAT are taking us back a century.

A more onerous practice that also helps 'legacy' matriculants is the "Gentleman's C" which still exists and not just for athletes. It would be also possible to weigh in on 'low-challenge' EasyA classes.


I see nothing wrong with a little nepotism, provided the individual in question can cut the muster and carry their own load creditably.
However, I have problems with it if it denies me a place or becomes a barrier to my own ambitions and advancement. The same applies to the issues of race, gender or creed.

Fairness in admissions? Who said the world is fair. Give me a break. Equity is not the issue, never has been...

Supra Strapped NS

Every dog has his day.

Maximize Liberty

Both of these articles engage in a false comparison. Implicitly, each article compares between colleges voluntarily having legacy admission standards and colleges voluntarily doing away with legacy admission standards. The real choice is between colleges having legacy admission standards and a group of government employees deciding what the colleges' admission standards will be. Both articles are filled with discussions of what the colleges incentives are, but none on what the governmental regulator's incentives would be. This is disappointingly naive for two authors of such high repute. Did they miss the whole public choice school?



Posner writes that "one can imagine a system in which all education, from kindergarten to graduate and professional school, would be financed by the government."

One need not imagine such a system. Government-subsidized lending to college students is pervasive. Add the panoply of junky tax credits and deductions that likewise subsidize higher education, and there is no doubt we have such a system today.

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People often say things like "just because I find the practice repuganant, doesn't mean I think it should be banned." (And in this vein, Judge Posner leaves out the costs of enforcement.)
Here I think the reverse is true. Okay, fine, legacy admissions shouldn't be banned. Is the Judge just going to leave it at that? Isn't there another decision to be made -- namely, whether a particular institution should have this policy in the first place? A strong statement against legacy admissions from someone of Judge Posner's stature would likely have a lot of influnce, at least at the University of Chicago. (And the U of Chicago ending the practice would in turn be influential throughout America.) As it stands now, Judge Posner has done little more than knock down a straw man argument.


It does not take much reflection to see the kinship between legacy admissions and tuition discounts for in-state students at public colleges. The usual crowd that shouts about inequality, and decries practices like legacy admissions, seeks the elimination of all distinctions in admitting students to colleges. That might be fine if they sought to preserve distinctions based on academic merit, but that is not their true aim. Such folks want the equality of admissions that typified the Soviet Union. Ugh.

an observer

the "legacy" system was responsible for Bush 43 having sufficient credentials to be elected president

is any more evidence needed of how bad an idea false credentialing happens to be

Only Clarence Thomas endorses the "legacy" system, but he can sense the stigma from affirmative action


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That's a pretty good post!


wow, awesome article! I agree with your point!


The perception that college education is essential for success and happiness has led to the fact that this is something everyone wants or needs, the universities becoming major businesses, driving the costs up for a whole variety of reasons, giving the pols the opportunity to "provide" (in exchange for votes) and the consequential federal and state control. Legacies cannot be far from doom unless of course one can can somehow "influence" someone. Think health care become education

Christopher Graves

Boo raises two interesting points. The first is the claim that racial/ethnic diversity brings different points of view to the classroom, thereby stimulating deeper discussion and thought. I do not see this kind of dynamic actually occurring very often on American college campuses. In fact, speech codes and PC make it next to impossible to discuss controversial topics centered on race/ethnicity/language/culture. This trend goes hand-in-hand with the near monopoly the left has on college faculty.

A further problem here is that racial/cultural differences are not simply intellectual. Rather, these differences give rise to subtle unconscious differences that are next to impossible to fully recognize and to bridge. Many philosophical differences are rooted in different ways of life. The intellectual aspects of various conflicts are the tip of an iceberg that are largely tacit.

The second point Boo raises centers on equality of result. I agree that it is not only ineffectual to relegate the more talented students to second-tier schools, but I am shocked that Judge Posner would see hindering the development of the more talented for the sake of what is likely to be the source of the demand for greater equality, and that is resentful envy. Of course, it is another matter altogether whether top-tier schools offer a better education. I doubt that most do.

Robert Kwasny

"Moreover, legacy admissions may actually reduce inequality, because the abler person pushed down to a lower-tier school may have lower lifetime earnings as a result, and if as is likely he is upper middle class, the reduction in his lifetime earnings will reduce inequality."

Creating circumstances under which talented individuals do worse than they would have if US colleges did not have a legacy preference might in fact reduce inequality. Making artificial barriers for best and brightest will push them down a little. But is that really how we want to achieve greater equality?

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"The “legacy” preference is not a mere tie breaker; as in the case of preferences for blacks, Hispanics, and athletes, it amounts in effect to pretending that the applicant had a substantially higher score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test than he or she actually had."

That is actually exactly how preferences for blacks, Hispanics, and athletes work. If anything, being a black/Hispanic/athlete helps more than being a legacy.

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Add the panoply of junky tax credits and deductions that likewise subsidize higher education, and there is no doubt we have such a system today.

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The major one would be a reduction in alumni giving, and no one knows how much of a reduction there would be, or the extent to which it could be offset by more vigorous solicitation of alumni donations.

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