Since this is Black History Month, I thought it might make sense to take a look at the latest controversy surrounding affirmative action - that is affirmative action for rich white people. That's what opponents call legacy admissions, the practice of giving the relatives of alumni and other big boosters special consideration when they apply to a college.
With little public debate, the country is moving quickly to erase the practice from higher education, particularly at public universities. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Harvard legacy, is pushing legislation requiring schools receiving federal money to disclose the race and income data of all legacy applicants. Kennedy's intent is to call attention to the fact that affluent white kids benefit from preferential treatment more than poor black kids do under conventional affirmative action programs.
This comes in the wake of Texas A&M's decision to cancel its legacy preferences last month. Since the school no longer offers special treatment to minorities, critics argued, it shouldn't offer special treatment to anybody.
Being the child or grandchild of an alum was worth up to four points out of a possible 100 points in the school's admissions system, according to the Houston Chronicle. In a given year around 2,000 applicants earned "legacy points," but the vast majority of these students didn't need them to qualify for admittance.
But a few did. In 2003, 312 white legacies were admitted who otherwise wouldn't have been without the family connection. The year before, 321 white legacies were admitted. The school was quick to point out that the legacy program also admits blacks and Hispanics at about the same percentage rates. In 2003, six blacks and 27 Hispanics were admitted as legacies who wouldn't have been accepted otherwise.
Texas State Rep. Lon Burnam is furious about the practice. He's been pushing a law to ban the practice for a while. He told the Houston Chronicle that it's a "program that reflects the past, meaning the institutional racism of the 20th century, rather than the future, which will be majority African-American and Hispanic."
At the national level, rage at legacy policies has been running white hot for a while now, mostly as a way to deflect attacks at racial preferences that are typically more generous, pervasive and, needless to say, more popular among liberals.
John Edwards has made legacy programs one of the many things he's angry about (but in a rakishly good-looking way). He calls the policy "a birthright out of 18th-century British aristocracy, not 21st-century American democracy."