The Chronicle has a provocative piece on 10 Myths About Legacy Preferences in College Admissions. It’s a nice article, worth reading—the author Richard Kahlenberg posted in the comments that additional information is available: one chapter of their book is available online, and he plans a follow up post, and I’m half posting this to remind myself to go back and read it.

(I’m lackadaisically in favor of legacy admissions as part of my general belief that universities have never been meritocracies, but always instruments of social engineering and therefore ought to have quite a lot of leeway to engineer as they see fit.)

I’m just gonna be a bit snarky about a tangent, though (all emphasis in any quotations in this post added by me):

A generation later, two new legal theories are available to challenge legacy preferences. First, Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, lays out the case that legacy preferences at public universities violate a little-litigated constitutional provision that “no state shall … grant any Title of Nobility.” Examining the early history of the country, Larson makes a compelling case that this prohibition should not be interpreted narrowly as simply prohibiting the naming of individuals as dukes or earls, but more broadly, to prohibit “government-sponsored hereditary privileges”—including legacy preferences at public universities. Reviewing debates in the Revolutionary era, he concludes: “Legacy preferences at exclusive public universities were precisely the type of hereditary privilege that the Revolutionary generation sought to destroy forever.” The founders, Larson writes, would have resisted “with every fiber of their being” the idea of state-supported-university admissions based even in part on ancestry.

Oh, please. How do you even write that sentence without saying “oh, wait, slavery. Gee. Hmm.” Every fiber of their being. Really.


Thomas Jefferson famously sought to promote in America a “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent,” rather than an “artificial aristocracy” based on wealth. “By reserving places on campus for members of the pseudo-aristocracy of ‘wealth and birth,'” Lind writes, “legacy preferences introduce an aristocratic snake into the democratic republican Garden of Eden.”

Again, how do intelligent people manage to put together those words and take them seriously?

But, really, we don’t need to focus on slavery here. I want to see a whole pile of direct quotations before I’m convinced that leading eighteenth-century politicians even contemplated the concept that there might possibly be a difference between education and intelligence, and that they should do something about that.

I have no intention of researching this further, but it took me five minutes to come up with this old history of the University of Virginia, discussing Jefferson’s planning for the school that would open in 1819 (based on how history used to be written, I bet this is a pretty close paraphrase, but I also bet that the letter itself is available online somewhere for those who really care.):

In no form did these ponderings find a weightier expression than in his famous letter to Peter Carr in 1814. In that letter, he again laid down the various lines which a system of public instruction, in his judgment, should follow. Again he broadly declared, by way of introduction, that every citizen was entitled to an education commensurate with his condition and calling in life. How was this to be determined? By the social station to which he belonged. The whole community was capable of division into two classes: (1) the laboring class; and (2) the learned class. Members of the first would require elementary tuition to qualify them for the proper performance of their tasks; members of the second would need it as an indispensable forerunner to further study. So soon as the primary school had been left behind, the laboring class were expected to begin the pursuit of agriculture, or serve apprenticeships in different handicrafts, while, on the other hand, the learned class were expected to enter the colleges

Does anyone know at what point advanced education began to be separated from wealth, on a widespread scale?