A reader writes:
I'm a big believer in expanding class-based affirmative action. But I think one important step that should also be taken is the ending of legacy admissions at private schools, colleges, and universities.
The fact that the children of America's elite are given an opportunity to get an Ivy League education, and the prestige that goes with it, even though they may be less qualified than other applicants is one of the major flaws in any claim that the U.S. is, or ever has been, a true meritocracy. The child of a Harvard graduate should be treated no differently than the child of a high school dropout when Harvard makes its admission decisions, if merit truly is the basis for those decisions.
I don't think there's necessarily an easy way to simply ban legacy admissions. But we could condition the receipt of federal funding on an agreement that a parent's status as a graduate of a school will not be a factor given any consideration in the admissions process.
While I generally agree with Beinart's sentiments, the way he frames them does more to reinscribe distinctions between red and blue Americans than challenge them.
The only reason I can discern that Harvard is brought up in these discussions so frequently is that people seem to believe that students who are unable to get into Harvard are disadvantaged in some way, as if going to Oklahoma State University or Texas A&M is the booby prize for not lucking out in the affirmative action lottery. In spite of what the makeup of the current Supreme Court suggests, it's not necessary to attend an Ivy League institution to have a great education.
More ability to speak across the red-blue divide would be a wonderful thing, and three cheers if Harvard decides to be more equitable in their admissions. But why don't we see Beinart calling upon the scions of Ivy League elite to enroll at schools outside of the Northeast? Or does the promotion of dialogue only go one way?
The reason behind this seems to be that very few people outside of what are not so endearingly termed the flyover states actually believe you can get a decent education in any of them. Instead of combating this prejudice, Beinart reinforces it, suggesting that the best way to promote dialogue is for red-staters to gain access to blue state power networks. How much more effective would it be if the people in power stopped rewarding only those people who come from familiar networks?
During my sophomore year of college (2006), I was involved with a group that promoted issue-driven dialogue and we were able to get representatives of the campus organs of the two parties to organize an event discussing affirmative action. Our Republicans completely blindsided the crowd by arguing for a class-based version. Even as a liberal, I found their arguments compelling. It may not have popular support right now, but I could certainly see a younger generation of conservatives promoting these sorts of alternatives.
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