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[dupe] Legacy and Athlete Preferences at Harvard (2019) (nber.org)
111 points by Geekette 36 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 105 comments

A dupe from 9 months ago?

Of course, this is standard moderation.

When a story has had significant attention in the last year or so, we bury reposts as duplicates.


A race baiting flame war from 9 months ago that really has no place on HN.

Daniel, calling this a duplicate when the original post is 9 months old seems really questionable.

On HN the cutoff date for reposts is about a year. This is in the FAQ: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html. Btw, it was part of how pg trained me to moderate HN back in 2012, so I assume it was always the policy.

My apologies. I didn't realize there was an explicit policy.

I don't think he posts the links because it's a duplicate post. He posts them when there is interesting and relevant conversation from that last time it was posted.

Edit: I see now that the post itself is tagged with [dupe]

Appreciate the link to a newer version of the paper at a non-paywall source and didn't know this had been previously discussed here. However, I disagree with classifying today's discussion as a dupe of a 9 months old post.

ALDC (or at least LDC) preferences remain the most unjust (elitist) aspects of college admissions. Sadly, there seems to be limited political pressure to ban them (by which I mean extending various civil rights acts to ban institutions receiving federal funding from preferring LDC status).

A cynic would even point out that Ivy League schools heavily use race-based affirmative action to change the narrative and appear diverse. Sadly, no one looks at how poorly they look in terms of socio-economic diversity - typically around 15% of students receive Pell Grants compared to 30% at the top UCs that don't practice LDC preferences (https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-unive...)

I was shocked when I first learned what legacy students were. Everyone talks about the uk bring super classist but legacy students would never fly over here. The US seems to have some seriously blatant classism. The other obvious one is the teeth obsession.

> I was shocked when I first learned what legacy students were.

Also known as "grandfathered" students. Meaning, if your grandpa went to Harvard, you can apply to Harvard as a legacy student and get a way lower bar on the literacy test.

Well, the feeder schools are pretty classist. I went to Jr. High School in '81 (in Canada, no less) with a student who had a spot reserved for him at Eton (from birth - Apparently by being a descendant of Lord Cecil Martin), which has a high transfer rate to the big colleges in England.

Interesting, thanks for sharing. Do the children of British nobility actually face the same academic bar as everyone else to join Oxford and Cambridge? If not, what accounts for the difference?

Yes. With the exception of the time Prince Charles went to Cambridge

The difference is that private schools normally get better exam results. That's slowly changing now due to quotas and schemes to help disadvantaged kids. A lot of parents are apparently questioning the value to private schools over living in an area with good state schools.

For Oxbridge specifically there's also the interview. I don't know much about it but private schools definitely train their kids for these and I don't doubt there's unconscious bias there.

Also Oxbridge is so posh that a lot of lower socio-economic kids go to interview and then run for the hills.

That's because America has a better propaganda or PR department: no classes in America, just hard work alone!!

> The US seems to have some seriously blatant classism.

We just like to dress it up and call it "Meritocracy". Nevermind that your merits are that you were born into a wealthy, well-connected family.

Anybody who calls legacy admissions "meritocracy" is just lying. Proponents of meritocracy take it as a design goal, not a normative description of all existing systems. If you want meritocracy then you want to get rid of legacy admissions.

I have never heard legacy admission being called "meritocracy"

It's illuminating to also compare Harvard demographics vs the US. Sorted by most to least represented:

    Jewish: 14.0% vs 2.6% (5.38x)
    Asian American: 25.3% vs 5.3% (4.77x)
    Native Hawaiian: 0.6% vs 0.2% (3.00x)
    Native American: 1.8% vs 0.7% (2.57x)
    African American: 14.3% vs 12.7% (1.13x)
    Hispanic or Latino: 12.2% vs 17.6% (0.69x)
    non-Jewish white: 33.0% vs 58.9% (0.56x)

https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics from 2019



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Jews, upper estimate used

That is very helpful, a lot of inclusivity discussions are undermined because many people feel intentionally excluded, while the historically disenfranchised groups feel like they are only just gaining proportional representation. This leaves people very confused to what is going on, if they are not familiar with the historically disenfranchised group's perspectives and get blindsided by something that doesn't match their worldview and personal experience of struggle.

So in this case, white hispanic and non-Jewish white majority (which can be one in the same, to some of the people self identifying) do feel short changed and this can be accurate in this case, if they are not "legacy, athletes, staff/donors".

Obtaining support and resources for a more productive and inclusive society would need to not marginalize the power group capable of changing it.

I assume that's Harvard vs US population demographics and not US college demographics? Both would be interesting as comparisons, and interesting in relation to each other.

Edit: To provide a little myself: “In 2017, only about half (49.9 percent) of elementary school students and 54.7 percent of college students were non-Hispanic white,” said Kurt Bauman, Chief, Education and Social Stratification Branch.[1] So Harvard seems to be more diverse than other colleges, at least slightly. I suspect the census is combining the Jewish population into the non-hispanic white category, but haven't looked close enough to know. Even with that, Harvard is slightly more diverse than the average.

1: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/school-e...

That is correct.

The combination of these numbers and the article produce an interesting conclusion: The non-Jewish non-ALDC white population is the most impacted by the over-representation of ALDC students (followed by Hispanics/Latinos).

The original implication was ALDC white kids getting in at the expense of minorities, but what appears to be really happening is ALDC white kids getting in at the expense of non-ALDC white kids, who were significantly under-represented to begin with.

I remember reading somewhere that Harvard had a ton of black international students, so "African American" may not be accurate in that case.

Not very many international Harvard College students and I'm not sure their race is even included in the statistics

It looks like 24% of Harvard undergrads are international students.


You didn't make any value statements with this data, but it should be noted that disparities in representation have nothing to do with whether or not groups should or deserve to be represented more or less.

Why is this comment being downvoted?


Very interesting - it would be even more so to understand the financial/class background within those groups.

Is there a reason to compare the demographics to those of the US, when many Harvard students aren’t US citizens?

I have a feeling the stats make a bit more sense if you just assume Harvard is country-of-origin blind, and so compare Harvard admissions to the racial make-up of the entire global population (perhaps weighted by how much of each country’s population declares intent to attend a university.)

Sure: it's still a school in the US.

Many employees of US companies are not US citizens, but that doesn't stop people from evaluating Google or FB or whoever that way.

For there to be a representation disparity you need a baseline. You could choose a different population as your baseline, but usually when talking about racial disparities in American institutions they use the American population

The "Asian American" stat presumably doesn't include international students (just like "African American" wouldn't include someone from Africa)

Oh, it might well do that. It's a somewhat common American tic to use "African American" to mean "black" even when talking about people who are definitely not American.

Only 12% of Harvard students are international: https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics

" if you just assume anyone from anywhere in the world has an equal chance of getting into Harvard" is just not true really. It's fundamentally an American school. 20% foreign students.

The better numbers (assuming that's not what these are already) would be the statistics for Harvard students who are from the US, because the international numbers are obviously going to be confounded by the demographics of the non-uniform source countries. Nobody's going to be enlightened by the revelation that substantially all of the admissions from Asia are Asian.

Asian Americans are Americans. It makes perfect to compare Asian American admits to Asian Americans in the American population

I think I remember reading that 10% of Harvard College students are international

[snarky retort redacted]

I do apologize, and I appreciate the helpful clarifications.

That non-Jewish whites are the most under-represented group at Harvard, despite many of them being "legacy, athletes, staff/donor relatives". Whereas this submission would seem to suggest that whites are being unfairly admitted to the detriment of other groups.

In reality, it's the other way around. And the fact that almost half of the few whites that do get in do so through some loophole almost makes it worse -- it means a white kid who is a brilliant student but isn't born into the right family or is an athlete has almost no chance of being admitted.

non-jewish whites are the most underrepresented group at harvard.


Affirmative Action.


Always found the combination of non-profit status and legacy or donor-enhanced admissions to be odd bedfellows.

What's interesting are the odds of non-ALDC whites being admitted.

It's basically the same as the non-ALDC asian acceptance rate.


What does this mean? Athlete, legacy, donor, ...C? Celebrity?

Based on my research the term “ALDC” refers to “recruited Athletes, Legacies, those on the Dean’s interest list, and Children of faculty and staff.”

Amused by "based on my research" being "I read the linked abstract". Not hating, just amused at what appears to be a euphemistic response.

Sorry, the original title of the post used the word "Staff" so I suppose I was primed for "ALD - Staff" and missed "ALD - [Children of] Staff"

From the introduction of the paper: "... recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs)."

Children of the faculty.

Children of the faculty

I hate to say stuff like this, but the more I learn about Harvard, the more I think it exists to sustain itself so that it can serve the interest of handful. Education is just a byproduct.

I'm no defender of Harvard but I can guarantee you that most "elite" schools do this, including the whole Ivy league- and there are definitely other Ivies that are worse offenders. Harvard is just in the spotlight. Not that this changes the criticism of Harvard necessarily, but there are system-wide problems here.

With the size of its endowment Harvard is often called a hedge fund with a small school attached to it.

I have a question about the abstract for anyone that looked deeper at the paper- does the following statement take into account rejected student stats or only those of accepted students? Because it seems plausible to me that white students "on the cusp" are more likely to get rejected to "make room" for ALDCs. Meaning that removing this preference may actually benefit a typical white applicant more than others. I could of course also imagine that not being the case though.

"Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged."

I do recall the popular line about how everyone at orientation could be replaced with a new cohort that has similar academic profile, which implies that there is quite a bit of judgement call going on.

Overall, it is unsurprising yet disappointing that they estimate ~3/4 of ALDCs would not get admitted without that status. This system is probably a big reason that most elite schools have ~15% of their students from the top 1%, while MIT is closer to 5%. MIT definitely does not do legacies and of course gives little weight to athletics. I am not sure about children of faculty though.

The numbers wind up pretty grim. 43% of white students are legacy or athletic, 3/4 of those are otherwise inadmissible, so that's 32% of white students ALDC and inadmissible otherwise. Harvard is 44% white, so it's 30% (academically) competitively chosen white. That compares to 58% of the overall college population in the U.S.

But at whose expense are ALDCs chosen? I suppose we cannot know, but are there rejected non-ALDC white students that could fill those spots who the model would consider deserving to be there? FWIW MIT is ~40% white without AL(DC?) [0], so that is closer to H's current distribution.

The whole admissions situation is of course an opaque, handwavy, crapshoot. But I am just curious in practice what would happen to the distribution if Harvard decided to drop say legacy status.

[0] https://mitadmissions.org/apply/process/profile/

I can't really say except that obviously non-ALDC white students are a much smaller proportion of Harvard's class than undergraduate students overall. My guess is that they have target numbers for diversity. Since the overwhelming majority the ALDCs are, due to economic and historical factors, white, it is quite difficult to get into Harvard if you're white and your parents didn't go to Harvard, dont' work at Harvard, aren't rich enough to make a big donation, or aren't moderately wealthy and savvy enough to get you into some obscure Harvardy sport like rowing.

Another interesting stat- 55% of Harvard graduate students are Jewish.


That sounds implausibly high.

The disclaimer on the data says it's just an estimate, it's not from an official record, so I guess the real number isn't known.

I wonder why the real number isn't known.

Well it's not information that's collected by Harvard

It says there that the denominator (total number of graduate students) is 4577 when Wikipedia says it's 14,215.

While still greatly over-represented (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23764422), Hillel tends to over-count Jewish students, according to https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/how-many-jewish-undergraduat...

That number is wildly inaccurate but even so, it's no doubt very different from the bad old days:

Certain private universities, most notably Harvard, introduced policies which effectively placed a quota on the number of Jews admitted to the university. According to historian David Oshinsky, on writing about Jonas Salk, "Most of the surrounding medical schools (Cornell, Columbia, Pennsylvania, and Yale) had rigid quotas in place. In 1935 Yale accepted 76 applicants from a pool of 501. About 200 of those applicants were Jewish and only five got in." He notes that Dean Milton Winternitz's instructions were remarkably precise: "Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all."


If Jews are extremely over-represented (with respect to their share in the US population, which is about 1.7%), shouldn't there be an affirmative action for non-jewish students?

so this is saying Yale accepted 5 jews out of 76 students accepted overall. That's still a whopping 6% of all students accepted even though they make up < 2% of the population. How is that the bad?

Jews have always had it pretty good in the US, don't know what there really is to complain about.

That stat is worthless. They don't even define the population.

Students whose parents went to Harvard tend to grow up aiming for Harvard themselves. It's likely that a high percentage of the Harvard applicant pool are legacies in the first place. If their stats are as good or better than the average of the admitted class, then what's the problem?

Is there clear evidence that legacies have an easier time getting in on a per case basis compared to a similar student without that that designation, as is the case for applicants with the URM designation?

I know of a professor, who used to be at MIT, then Microsoft research. He joined Harvard a few years ago; one of the side benefits is to secure admission for his progeny.

Some universities automatically admit children of faculty, but Harvard is not among them. Source: Me, DP of Harvard faculty member. See also https://hr.harvard.edu/faculty

Do we really need to include race in our analysis? Why not look at all Harvard students?

Did you open the link? There's only 5 sentences:

"Among admits who are African American, Asian American, and Hispanic, the share is less than 16% each."

Because race has been built into the fabric of our society. If we don't acknowledge that, then racial injustice will continue to propagate through time un-impeded.

Only by overcoming the concept of race can we actually overcome social division. Divisions among whites have melted away as they stopped seeing each other as "English" or "Italian" and instead came to unite. Similarly for us as citizens to unite we need to stop seeing each other as "white" and "black" and instead overcome these superficial differences.

Injustice can easily be rooted out while also overcoming the concept of race.

The problem is that race-oriented thinkers obsess over race and reify it, actually making racial tension worse.

Competition for reproduction and resources between groups of genetically proximate organisms is the history of "life".

Through the mixing pot of America we can come together and overcome our natural tendency towards division. This is part of what makes America a great nation.

Again, the racially-oriented thinkers often just exacerbate division.

America's history has a continuous component of oppression. At no point since the founding of the country have all folk present on this land been equal and free. Pretending that past (and current) atrocities didn't happen, and ignoring whom they targeted, means that the inequalities they created will linger.

Even today, COVID 19 affects Black and Latino folks at greater rates. That is a real, physical, manifestation of racial injustice. Ignoring that means ignoring structural problems in America.

This is the case for every single country on Earth, and is actually still the case for most countries on Earth. Show me a country today and I'll show you a set of groups who are oppressed in that country.

However it is America that has come the farthest in overcoming racial discrimination, which is why people from around the world want to come here in droves.

Those groups are disproportionately affected because they are disproportionately living in cities, which has nothing to do with racial oppression.

The Latino population has swelled in recent decades and new immigrants to the US are almost always poorer than the general population. That's been true for the last 200 years and there's nothing wrong with that.

Yet racialists like yourself ignore this and try to claim discrimination. It's intellectually dishonest.

As for Blacks in America, the only thing that will bring them up and negate past discrimination is a improvement of their culture and focusing on the future. Most of black poverty today is caused by broken homes and other cultural issues, not oppression.

Do you really need post this comment? Why not look at all possible comments?

I never thought I would see the All Comments Matter movement hit HN

Yes. We really need to include race in our analysis and in all such analyses.

It does look at all Harvard students, however the analysis is done from a racial point of view, in-line with the original law suit.

yes we do!

Why are you trying to be so blind to race concerns?

Because the priority is not to make it fairer, it is to add new benefits for some special interest.

Race-based affirmative action misbehaves in exactly the ways its critics predict, but is still wildly popular because of how it feels to white liberals.

Race-based affirmative action is under regular legal attack: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/us/affirmative-action-sup...

As far as I know, legacy admissions have never been challenged before the SCOTUS.

Furthermore, legacy admissions tend to reward underachieving students from privileged families, while affirmative action intends to reward overachieving students from underprivileged circumstances (e.g. programs admitting the top N% of graduates from every high school help good students who went to bad schools).

Being admitted to a school whose standards you do not meet is not a reward, but the first step toward creating the circumstances to argue that the means of evaluation is racist.

Bad schools hurt, but discriminating by race at matriculation is about the most hamfisted imaginable way to achieve the outcome you're talking about. If the goal is to find and admit students whose worst academic years are behind them, overadmitting 1st generation Nigerian Americans because they look similar to African Americans is not the way.

P.S. it seems you switch from "tend" to "intend" mid sentence, so I don't grasp what comparison you're trying to draw, maybe give that another shot.

> it seems you switch from "tend" to "intend" mid sentence

I'm fairly confident in the effect of legacy admissions. As for affirmative action programs, I'm confident in the intent of those programs, but less confident in their effect. Thus the switch in wording.

Mix the smart and the rich paints and call it one color.

I'd need to know what the percentage of ALDC students across races and across the total population is in order to interpret this statistic

From the abstract:

> Among admits who are African American, Asian American, and Hispanic, the share is less than 16% each.

And when Harvard puts quotas for "minorities", it doesn't limit offers for these people, it limits them for the other 57%.

Non paywall access: https://sci-hub.se/10.3386/w26316


I've often found it confusing why we look at African Americans as a separate group, but then group so many as "White" or "Asian"?

Why not just separate people by their majority national heritage?

While I agree with your first sentence, separation by national heritage is impossible for many demographics in the U.S., including both white and black Americans.

But yeah, I think abstracting 60% of the world population as a monolithic "Asian" category is disingenuous and betrays the lived experiences of Asians from historically disadvantaged and poor countries. I think the Gates Foundation is on a good track by considering Asian students for their full ride scholarship, alongside Native American, Hispanic, and Black peers, by analyzing the specific lived experience of the applicant (a Southeast Asian refugee has lived a different life than the "steretypical" Asian American applicant).

Many white subgroups have been historically disadvantages (albeit not specifically within US policy)

eg: Scottish, Irish, Jewish people immediately come to mind

Personally I think it'd be better to avoid using skin color/race as an indicator of need and instead just look at need in isolation. A poor person needs help paying for school regardless of their skin color.

I agree, it's just that for many Americans, including white Americans from disadvantaged groups, tracing national heritage is hard. Need and class-based considerations make sense to me, though. I think that starts getting on the right track. Anthony Jack from Harvard argues a similar framework would actually assist in advancing racially-discriminated groups like black Americans in his work on "the privileged poor" and class-blind racial affirmative action. I recommend reading his work.

This idea that there was historical disadvantage to the Irish comes from a single photograph of a sign that says "Irish Need Not Apply". This is the equivalent of putting an individual Tweet from 2016 saying "Kill All White Men" in history textbooks as some sort of meaningful thing.

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