SJT defends legacy admissions

Calling on his experiences as University president, President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said he supports higher education admission policies that give a boost to children of alumni during a panel Wednesday.

The focus of the panel’s discussion was a new book concerning the downfalls and moral ramifications of legacy preferences in higher education institutions. Members of the panel included three co-authors of the book arguing the unfairness of legacy preference.

While other panel members argued the unconstitutionality of favoring the children of university alumni, Trachtenberg said he sees advantages to admitting the children of dedicated alumni.

“The single most important benefit of having gone to Harvard or Yale is that you had an education and you could in some way pass one of the benefits of this education onto your children,” Trachtenberg said.

He said admitting the children of an alumnus to an institution of higher education had little to no bearing on a class or a university as a whole. He said he regards legacy preference as a community building technique in universities.

Trachtenberg gave an example of how GW admissions counselors select the incoming freshman class, having to choose from 20,000 applicants a class of only 2,000.

“The goal is to choose a group of people that actually want to be there, and a group that will get along with each other. If you choose only the most qualified, you could end up with a class of 2,000 girls who will be very disappointed when looking around on the first day of freshman year,” Trachtenberg said.

Trachtenberg argued that by using legacy as a part of the application, the class of students ends up being a group from all backgrounds and that desire to be at the school.

He said legacy preference also gives families the sense that they belong to a community. He referenced GW’s discount on tuition as a way of contributing to this idea. With this policy, if a student comes to GW while their sibling is already enrolled, they can receive a discount of 50 percent off tuition.

“We want to encourage families to think of George Washington as their university,” he said of why the policy began.

Panel member Steve Shadowen, an attorney specializing in commercial litigation and a law professor, said that 86 percent of the top 200 ranked universities in the nation use legacy preference, thus “shutting the door on the children of college dropouts or low-income parents.”

During the question-and-answer period of the luncheon, Trachtenberg countered this point by saying that these students may not get into a top-choice school, but that they will also find a school they can belong to.

While he said he supports legacy preference, Trachtenberg acknowledged that there are limits to legacy admissions. He said that if 30 percent of an admitted class was legacy, that would definitely raise moral issues.

In response to an audience question about what the admission situation would be if legacy preferences were abolished at all schools, Trachtenberg said nothing would change.

“Many legacy students would get into top-ranking schools even without the legacy advantage,” he said.

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