National News

Wesleyan University ends legacy admissions

The decision comes just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action.

Students eating lunch outside on the Wesleyan University campus in Middletown, Connecticut, on Nov. 11, 2022. Bea Oyster / The New York Times

Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Connecticut, is ending legacy admissions, which give a leg up to the children of alumni, just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action.

Why it matters: Opposition to legacy admissions has grown

After the Supreme Court decision, legacy admissions came under heavy attack because the practice tends to favor white, wealthy applicants over Black, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American students.

Legacy admissions & affirmative action

President Joe Biden; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., have all spoken out against the practice. Polls also show that the public does not support legacy admissions: A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 75% of those surveyed believed legacy status should not be a factor in college admissions.


Some highly selective universities and colleges have dropped legacy admissions, including Amherst, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But most have been reluctant to give up the practice, arguing that it helps build a strong intergenerational community and encourages donations, which can be used for financial aid.

Background: Legacy status was becoming ‘a sign of unfairness to the outside world’

The decision by Wesleyan, which has about 3,200 undergraduates, could be easier than for other universities, including Harvard and Yale, that have a higher share of legacy admits.

Legacy status played a “negligible role” in admissions, Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan’s president, said in an interview. But, he added, the practice was becoming a distraction and “a sign of unfairness to the outside world.”

Roth said he did not know precisely how many past Wesleyan students were helped by legacy status. An applicant’s family ties could, for example, be used as a tiebreaker or to help whittle down a pool. They won’t any longer.

He said he wanted to focus the conversation on improving diversity, including recruiting more veterans and students from rural areas, and to avoid discussion of “the embarrassing fact, actually, that you got a leg up because of your parent or grandparent.”

Roth said he believed most alumni, though not all, would agree that legacy admissions are no longer appropriate.


“I’m wagering, I guess,” he said, “that Wesleyan alumni will be proud of that, and they want it to be a place that doesn’t give unearned privileges to applicants.”

What’s next: Groups are challenging legacy admissions at other colleges

The future of legacy admissions on campuses is uncertain.

After the Supreme Court decision, Biden said he would ask the Education Department to examine “practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.” And Lawyers for Civil Rights, a legal activist group, has filed a complaint with the department, requesting a review of legacy admissions, as well as admissions preferences for relatives of donors, at Harvard.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the group’s executive director, said in an interview that he expected more colleges in the months ahead to make similar decisions, before the next admissions cycle.

“Institutions will reconsider their practices just as a matter of basic fairness,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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