Ethical Reflection on College Legacy Admissions

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Prestigious American colleges and universities, such as Dartmouth, Princeton, UVA, and Harvard, are internationally renowned for providing exceptional scholarly opportunities and ensuring an above-average career for the brightest minds; acceptance into one of these institutions is considered by many as a sign of great intellectual promise. Is it not shocking, then, that in many of these institutions, approximately 10 to 25 percent of the student body consists of legacy admissions, a majority of which would be considered academically incompetent for these institutions? In “Are Legacy Preferences in College Admissions Un-American?” Michael Lind argues that the tradition of legacy preferences, adopted by over three quarters of America’s selective colleges, is at odds with the fundamental design of a democratic republic because it reduces social mobility by promoting an economic and educational aristocracy. To further this point, it has been estimated that beneficiaries of legacy preferences are disproportionately white, Protestant, and upper income. Hence adding on to Michael Lind’s argument, legacy admissions are not only an un-American tradition, but also an important ethical issue, as they disadvantage meriting students of color, various religions, and lower income. As noted by James Conant, “Each generation must have the possibility to start life afresh… Sons and daughters must and can seek their own level, obtain their own economic rewards, and engage in any occupation irrespective of what their parents might have done.”

It is clear that opting to keep legacy preferences would bring about the most harm if one evaluates the issue using the ethical decision framework, a method of finding alternative actions to ethical issues that considers the benefits and harms each course of action will produce, which moral rights will be affected by this course of action, whether or not a particular course of action shows favoritism or discrimination, which course of action...
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