The legacy system is affirmative action for the privileged.
We progressives hail opportunity, egalitarianism and diversity. Yet here’s our dirty little secret: Some of our most liberal bastions in America rely on a system of inherited privilege that benefits rich whites at the expense of almost everyone else.
I’m talking about “legacy preferences” that elite universities give to children of graduates. These universities constitute some of the world’s greatest public goods, but they rig admissions to favor applicants who already have had every privilege in life.
.. Most of the best universities in America systematically discriminate in favor of affluent, privileged alumni children. If that isn’t enough to get your kids accepted, donate $5 million to the university, and they’ll get a second look.
.. Reeves noted the irony that in Europe and most of the rest of the world, there is no such explicit system of legacy preferences, yet in supposedly egalitarian America it is formal and systematic.
.. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical that institutions so associated with liberalism should embrace a hereditary aristocratic structure? Ah, never underestimate the power of self-interest to shape people’s views. As Reeves put it dryly: “American liberalism tends to diminish as the issues get closer to home.”
.. having a parent graduate increased the chance of admission at 30 top colleges by 45 percentage points. For example, a candidate who otherwise had a 20 percent shot became a 65 percent prospect with a parent who had graduated from that school.
.. Earlier, a 2004 Princeton study estimated that legacy at top schools was worth an additional 160 points on an SAT, out of 1600 points.
Legacy preferences apparently were introduced in America in the early 1900s as a way to keep out Jewish students. To their credit, some American universities, including M.I.T. — not to mention Oxford and Cambridge in Britain — don’t give a legacy preference.
The top universities say that legacy preferences help create a multigenerational community of alumni, and that’s a legitimate argument. They also note that rewarding donors helps encourage donations that can be used to finance scholarships for needy kids.
Yet on balance, I’m troubled that some of America’s greatest institutions grant a transformative opportunity disproportionately to kids already steeped in advantage, from violin lessons to chess tournaments to SAT coaching. On top of that, letting wealthy families pay for extra consideration feels, to use a technical term, yucky.
Liberals object to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing tycoons to buy political influence, so why allow tycoons to buy influence in college admissions?
The elite learn early that they’re special — and that they won’t face consequences.Brett Kavanaugh is not telling the whole truth. When President George W. Bush nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006, he told senators that he’d had nothing to do with the war on terror’s detention policies; that was not true.Kavanaugh also claimed under oath, that year and again this month, that he didn’t know that Democratic Party memos a GOP staffer showed him in 2003 were illegally obtained; his emails from that period reveal that these statements were probably false.
And it cannot be possible that the Supreme Court nominee was both a well-behaved virgin who never lost control as a young man, as he toldFox News and the Senate Judiciary Committee this past week, and an often-drunk member of the “Keg City Club” and a “Renate Alumnius ,” as he seems to have bragged to many people and written into his high school yearbook. Then there are the sexual misconduct allegations against him, which he denies.
.. How could a man who appears to value honor and the integrity of the legal system explain this apparent mendacity? How could a man brought up in some of our nation’s most storied institutions — Georgetown Prep, Yale College, Yale Law School — dissemble with such ease? The answer lies in the privilege such institutions instill in their members, a privilege that suggests the rules that govern American society are for the common man, not the exceptional one.
.. What makes these schools elite is that so few can attend. In the mythologies they construct, only those who are truly exceptional are admitted — precisely because they are not like everyone else. Yale President Peter Salovey, for instance, has welcomed freshmen by telling them that they are “the very best students.” To attend these schools is to be told constantly: You’re special, you’re a member of the elect, you have been chosen because of your outstanding qualities and accomplishments.
.. Schools often quite openly affirm the idea that, because you are better, you are not governed by the same dynamics as everyone else. They celebrate their astonishingly low acceptance rates and broadcast lists of notable alumni who have earned their places within the nation’s highest institutions, such as the Supreme Court. Iheard these messages constantly when I attended St. Paul’s, one of the most exclusive New England boarding schools, where boys and girls broke rules with impunity, knowing that the school would protect them from the police and that their families would help ensure only the most trivial of consequences... elites’ sense of their own exceptionalism helps instill within them a tendency to be less compassionate... Take drug use. While the poor are no more likely to use drugs (in fact, among young people, it’s the richer kids who are more likely to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana), they are far more likely to be imprisoned for it.. Kavanaugh’s privilege runs deep, and it shows. He grew up in a wealthy Washington suburb where his father spent three decades as CEO of a trade association. There has been a sense among his supporters that his place is deserved, which mirrors the climate of aristocratic inheritance he grew up around. His peers from the party of personal responsibility have largely rallied around him, seeking to protect his privilege... Ari Fleischer, put it: “How much in society should any of us be held liable today when we lived a good life, an upstanding life by all accounts, and then something that maybe is an arguable issue took place in high school? Should that deny us chances later in life?”American Conservative editor Rod Dreher wondered “why the loutish drunken behavior of a 17 year old high school boy has anything to tell us about the character of a 53 year old judge.”.. This collective agreement that accountability doesn’t apply to Kavanaugh (and, by extension, anybody in a similar position who was a youthful delinquent) may help explain why he seems to believe he can lie with impunity — a trend he continued Thursday, when he informed senators that he hadn’t seen the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, even though a committee aide told the Wall Street Journal he’d been watching... servant leadership and privilege are often bedfellows. Both suggest not a commonality with the ordinary American, but instead a standing above Everyman. Both justify locating power within a small elite because this elite is better equipped to lead... Retired justice Anthony Kennedy, according to some reports, hand-picked Kavanaugh as his successor.. both allow space for lying in service of the greater good. Privilege means that things like perjury aren’t wrong under one’s own private law.
“As gatekeeper to the upper middle class, the elite university has as its primary social function the sorting of the population. (And it seeks rents commensurate with occupying such a choice position.) It detects existing inequalities, exacerbates them, and certifies them. And whatever else it does, it serves as a finishing school where the select learn to recognize one another, forging a class consciousness that has lately hardened into a de facto caste system. But for that very reason, it is also the place where the sentiment that every inequality is illegitimate must be performed most strenuously” (1,800 words)
New data on college majors confirms an old trend. Technocracy is crushing the life out of humanism.the years since the Great Recession have been “brutal for almost every major in the humanities.” They’ve also been bad for “social science fields that most closely resemble humanistic ones — sociology, anthropology, international relations and political science.” Meanwhile the sciences and engineering have gained at the expense of humanism, and with them sports management and exercise studies — the “hygiene” and “sport,”..Notably this trend is sharper among elite liberal arts colleges, the top thirty in the US News and World Report rankings, where in the early 2000s the humanities still attracted about a third of all students, but lately only get about a fifth... it’s not just a matter of the post-Great Recession middle class seeking more practical degrees to make sure their student loans get repaid quickly; the slice of the American elite that’s privileged enough and intellectually-minded enough to choose Swarthmore or Haverford or Amherst over a state school or a research university is abandoning Hermes for Apollo at the fastest clip... the absence of a post-Great Recession bounce-back for the humanities suggests that the economic calamity of 2008 was a precondition but not the only cause, and that other cultural shifts had left the humanities ripe for another era of collapse... many conservatives blame the humanists themselves, for being politicized and marching lock step to the left and for pursuing postmodernist obscurantism in their scholarship and prose. But I think it’s more useful to step back a bit and recognize both politicization and postmodern jargon as attempted solutions to a pre-existing problem, not the taproot of the crisis.
.. the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform
.. First, there was a stronger religious element in midcentury culture, visible both in the general postwar religious revival and in the particular theological-intellectual flowering that Jacobs’s subjects embodied, which rooted midcentury humanism in a metaphysical understanding of human life
.. Second, there was the example of a rival civilization, totalitarian Communism,
.. And third, forged in response to the Communist threat, there was a sense of Western identity, Western historical tradition, that could be glib and propagandistic in a from-Plato-to-NATO style, but at its best let people escape the worst of late modern afflictions, the crippling chauvinism of the now.
.. a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink.
.. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.
.. where the last piece of advice doesn’t seem like a contradiction in terms, and you’ve imagined the beginnings of humanism’s revival. May we live to see the day.