"I think it [admissions] ought to be based on merit," [President] Bush said in responding to a question this morning at the Washington Convention Center from Roland S. Martin, a commentator who is running the editorial operations of the Chicago Defender for three months. Martin represented the National Association of Black Journalists on the panel of questioners.
Martin had asked earlier about Bush's position in the University of Michigan affirmative action case that the Supreme Court decided in June 2003, when it upheld the university's consideration of race for admission to its law school, but invalidated its affirmative action program for admission to its undergraduate college.
After Bush responded that he agreed with the court's decision and added that he favored diversity but opposed the use of "quotas," Martin noted that in his mentions of "quotas," "I've never heard you speak against legacy." If the criteria should be merit and not race, Martin asked, "shouldn't colleges also get rid of legacy?"
"I thought you were referring to my legacy," Bush replied. "In my case, I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man."
The implications of ending legacy programs would be significant.
"The legacy preference, as it is known, is nearly as widespread as those based on race and ethnicity. Colleges like it because it keeps alumni happy and more inclined to donate. But overwhelmingly, the legacy preference benefits whites," Daniel Golden wrote in an award-winning series for the Wall Street Journal last year.
Five Supreme Court "justices or their children qualified for an admissions edge known as 'legacy preference,'" he wrote.
"Two state universities, Georgia's and California's, have already dropped legacy preference after having been forced to end racial preferences. A court ruling knocked out the University of Georgia's racial preferences in 2001, and a voter initiative undid those in California in 1996. One Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, is calling for an end to legacy preferences."
Edwards, of course, is now the Democrats' vice presidential candidate. In a November 2002 speech, Edwards said, "It is a birthright out of 18th-century British aristocracy, not 21st-century American democracy."
Golden, whose series won the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting in 2004 and the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism in 2003, also reported that, "Sons and daughters of graduates make up 10% to 15% of students at most Ivy League schools and enjoy sharply higher rates of acceptance. Harvard accepts 40% of legacy applicants, compared with an 11% overall acceptance rate. Princeton took 35% of alumni children who applied last year, and 11% of overall applicants. The University of Pennsylvania accepts 41% of legacy applicants, compared with 21% overall."
Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile, manager of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, was in the overflow audience at the convention center. "I don't think he understands the implications of what he said," she told Journal-isms, adding that she expected the White House to issue a statement clarifying or correcting Bush's statement later in the day.