No More Legacy Admissions in Virginia

Out of luck

by James A. Bacon

Bills to ban preferential treatment for relatives of alumni at Virginia’s public universities flew through the 2024 session of the General Assembly in remarkable time. In a legislature marked by intense partisan divisions, companion bills passed subcommittees, committees, and the full Senate and the House of Delegates on unanimous votes. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Governor Glenn Youngkin has indicated he will sign the bill.

“If we’re going to have an even playing field, let’s have an even playing field,” said Democratic Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, who sponsored the Senate bill.

VanValkenburg’s statement presumably alludes to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling restricting preferential treatment in college and university admissions on the basis of race. Many Republicans and conservatives argued that policies should not tilt the playing field for or against members of a particular race or ethnic group. Admissions, they contend, should be based on merit.

In this case, Virginia Republicans appear to be true to their meritocratic principles. Attorney General Jason Miyares was among those backing the ban on legacies. The Times-Dispatch summarized his thinking this way: “Colleges should judge applications based on what a student can control — such as classes, grades and extracurriculars — not the color of their skin or their parents’ school.”

I don’t expect the legislation to have much real-world effect. Preferential treatment for legacies and children of donors was on its way out anyway.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on race in admissions, Virginia Tech ended legacy preferences last year.

The University of Virginia had relegated “alumnae relation” to a minor factor. In a list of 17 published admissions criteria classified as “considered,” “important,” and “very important,” legacy status was considered but not deemed important.

UVA admissions criteria, 2023, from UVA’s Institutional Research & Analytics website.

The Jefferson Council has studied admissions numbers for UVA and found that, adjusted for racial category, legacies admitted to the university had SAT scores in the same range as non-legacies. Had they been given preferential treatment, getting admitted over students with superior academic qualifications, one would expect their SAT scores on average to be lower.

As a political matter, a prohibition on favoritism for legacies could favor Republicans in the ongoing debate over the role of race in admissions. When Republicans argued that race/ethnicity should not be a factor, Democrats responded, yeah, how about legacies? If you believe in a level playing field, to borrow VanValkenburg’s phrase, how can you justify preferences for the sons and daughters of well-to-do parents? Assuming Youngkin signs the bill, that rhetorical gambit will be moot in Virginia.

A possible concern is how the legislation will affect alumni and donor loyalty to their institutions if their sons and daughters are denied admission. Loyalty to higher-ed institutions often runs in families. Inter-generational families tend to be more engaged and more generous to their alma maters. The Jefferson Council has heard numerous stories of progeny with high grades and SAT scores denied admission to UVA. The disillusion borne of rejection is intense. Some alumni have washed their hands of the institution.

However, legacies seem to be loyal to their parents’ alma maters, even if the alma maters aren’t loyal to their families. According to a UVA spokesman quoted by the Times-Dispatch, legacies accounted for 10% of students offered admissions to UVA but 14% of the first-year class. In other words, if offered a slot, legacies are far more likely than non-legacies to accept it.

Meanwhile, the battle over race in admissions will remain hotly contested. Public universities in Virginia have powerful internal constituencies that passionately believe that higher-ed is systemically racist and that the antidote to past discrimination is reverse discrimination. No one is under any illusion that university presidents will abide by the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling. They are actively devising workarounds to engineer desired demographic profiles of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Admissions policies are a black box, impenetrable to any Board of Visitors members who might try to understand them.

Republicans are sure to continue pressing for “race-blind” admissions. But left-wing critics, now the dominant element of the Democratic Party, view “race-blind” as a code word for White supremacy. In matters of race, they contend, there is no such thing as a level playing field. Indeed, there is every indication that Democratic lawmakers will seek to insulate university presidents from legal counsels appointed by Republican attorneys general, as I described in yesterday’s post, “Scott Surovell’s End Run Around Jason Miyares.” Also expect Democrats to take a closer look at Youngkin’s appointees to university boards and block anyone who might pose a threat to the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion regime. We have not seen the last of nominees getting the Bert Ellis treatment. Ending preferences for legacies will change none of that.

James A. Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council. This column has been republished with permission from Bacon’s Rebellion.

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dsmithuva75
dsmithuva75
4 months ago

It is sad that the picture to accompany this article is of seven “fratty” boys. As you know, women largely outnumber men in the current admissions scheme. Those seven examples of ‘Hoos are now a vanishing breed.

Boston Reader
Boston Reader
4 months ago

I never was sure how much advantage being a legacy really involved in the normal application process. When I looked into it for my sons all I could find was that the out of state legacy applications got a second read by the people who read in state applications. But I couldn’t see anything that supported legacies got any particular advantage compared to similarly situated out of state or in state applicants. Your review of the data supports this. I can’t disagree with the decision by the Virginia legislature. Public universities really should be looking at merit as much as possible. Private too. Of course every admissions office wants to extend offers to people whom they think will accept the offer and attend. So it would be logical to extend offers to legacies who are as qualified as anyone else in some preferential way since they are more likely to accept the offer.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Boston Reader

Those are fair comments. From the one year of info UVA Admissions cooperated on with me, Class of 2026, the data showed NO legacy “preference.”
UVA provided a ton of data by racial classification and in-State, out-of-State, including legacy.

As a group, not by race, legacy had the highest offer rate, so it appeared preferential.
However, when the legacy group was broken into the racial cohorts, AND the SAT scores were overlaid, the legacy group, in each racial cohort, was squarely within the SAT mean of that group.

At least with respect to UVA, for Class of 2026, it is a nothing-burger.

HooDaMan
HooDaMan
4 months ago

Will be interesting to see admit rates by demographic in a few years. I doubt it changes much b/c administrators’ hierarchy of preference won’t change. Social engineering is expensive however and alums contribute 2x the state. With tuition amongst the highest in the nation and needs blind admission ramping financial aid bill annually – UVa needs a serious cost structure overhaul. Every hire needs to be justified. But that would require admin reckoning including DEI. Not optimistic.

Clarity77
Clarity77
4 months ago

So the consensus as supported in the facts as laid out here is that the UVA legacy admissions tradition during Ryan’s tenure has not actually been preferential in practice but unless abolished by these bills it would serve as a leftist talking point to justify continuing preferential skin color based admissions decisions to the expense of actual ability and merit. Given the current stakes in the culture war in this country, it would appear acceptable to do away with one more UVA tradition.

There no doubt will be consequences in terms of loss of school spirit, camaraderie, and, for sure, even more alumni dollars which Ryan et al otherwise dearly covet. But alas subconscious guilt on their part blinds them to all this while in their woke cult they seek absolution by way of social justice.

Ryan has clearly set UVA on a road to perdition akin to where he came from, that being Harvard, which recently beclowned itself with Claudine Gay. That was long coming and well deserved when you give tenure to lunatic types like Cornell West and Lawrence Tribe. While these “kids” from Harvard like Ryan tear down the playroom it is imperative that those elected to ensure the public well being such as Youngkin, etc. act to steer UVA back on the road to what Jefferson and other Founding Fathers envisioned.

Youngkin and the coming new BOV must disregard the inevitable noise these “kids” will generate and keep their eyes focused on the truth as spoken by the Rev. MLK, Jr. back at a time when reason and truth still were preeminent in the public discussion.

Truth will especially set the black population free while social justice will only serve to further enslave and further limit their ability to flourish. Ryan and his Harvard cabal only seek ultimately to keep blacks on the plantation just like their democrat forebears did prior to the Civil War. Think immutable “prison” stripes as on a zebra when it comes to democrats no different now as they were then except to become much more insidious and evil as to their methods.

Youngkin must choose new BOV appointees who are unassailable in their integrity. The citizens of the commonwealth have put their trust in them by way of the ballot box and should they act in any way against that trust they will be relegated to being just another part of the current clown show of social justice whether at Harvard or UVA. The citizens of the Commonwealth deserve better!

Joseph Sahid
Joseph Sahid
4 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

Not one word attempting to quantify what this is expected to do to alumni contributions or sense of belonging.

Clarity77
Clarity77
4 months ago
Reply to  Joseph Sahid

UVA student polls, individual student accounts and even a letter to the WSJ from a UVA student relating the dramatic loss of a sense of camaraderie and school spirit since Ryan stepped into the president’s office have been posted on the TJC and other media over the past two years. It is self evident if you have an awareness of human nature that UVA alumni going forward will as a consequence be further disinclined to write a check to UVA and it will be harder for the UVA Foundation to convince them to do so as I am a perfect example of that which I point out. As to “quantifying,” it is too early to do such as this plays out over years.
I will give UVA credit as to a focus on students while on Grounds in attempting to coerce while they are indoctrinating such as to create a behavioral habit of giving going forward. I am grateful looking back that when I graduated there was no such coercion in place at that time as it boarders on a form of inappropriate abusive behavior IMO. Thank you Joseph for your input and the exercise in a free exchange of thoughts.

Peter LeQuire
Peter LeQuire
4 months ago

My observation is that the DEI malignancy has existed at the U for several decades. Its label may have been different earlier in the 21st Century, but it operated the same way: it rejected some undergraduate and graduate school applicants (and faculty aspirants) whose credentials were superior to some applicants having certain favoured characteristics who were admitted/hired.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter LeQuire

My UVA son graduated in 2011, from “American Studies.” He says it was the canary in the coal mine. About 40 in the major – he and one girl were the only students who liked America. None of the professors. He sad one professor was fair. She would call on him to tell the American side, and respected him and graded him fairly. But everything else we now see grew out of that critical view taking over in every department…

Clarity77
Clarity77
4 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

My UVA son also graduated in 2011 in English/Philosophy, in his first year he flourished and spoke glowingly of every single professor but by his third year he began to relate classroom experiences in which he was viciously yelled at by other students for his conservative views while the professor remained quiet.
I can only speculate, as it is said, “there are no coincidences,” this sudden change in classroom culture in part may have been a consequence of Casteen resigning and Sullivan beginning her stint. Although Casteen looking back had a hand in the years preceding, I do give him credit for giving out his personal cell phone number at Parents’ Weekend addresses in which he urged anyone to personally call him if there was an issue that concerned them. I do not fault him for resigning in part after the experience he was subjected to by the “Income Inequality” activists who held him hostage in Mad Hall.
In a 2019 lunch meeting with Ryan I related this remarkable act of integrity on the part of Casteen as to by that very action valuing the input of parents. I queried Ryan if he would so feel inclined to which he paused and looked at me like I was nuts. I then asked him if he would give me his cell number, again a pause and a reluctant “yes.” To which I replied, “no need to at this time.” The tell was in his pauses. I do not believe Casteen would have paused. I found Casteen to be a warm engaging personality, Sullivan to be a cold fish, and Ryan what I would call “calculating.” You can guess as to who I felt inclined to write a check to while with the other two my checkbook stayed in my pocket where it remains present day.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

I did not know of the Casteen/income inequality thing…guess I was still in my real work phase!

I agree as to the characterizations. While I believe Casteen would have been to the left of center, he understood things like respecting the alumni and trying to keep the politics out of the classroom. Sullivan was hired for her sex. Ryan was thought to be an improvement, likely because he clerked for Rehnquist (I guess). Boy were they wrong!

And he is far better at moving the Leftist Monoculture Ball down the field than Sullivan ever would have been. And he is so good at the weasel language! As is Baucom! But you need to understand it does not mean what Normies think it means – it means the opposite.

Leftism eats its own. It’s why Ryan won’t denounce SJP and stays squishy. They are “allies.” If he turns, all pounce, even paradoxically the LGBTQInfinity groups who would be killed by the Muslims…

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
4 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

I agree 100% with your positive categorization of President Casteen. A scholar, true gentleman, and triple Wahoo, so he was imbued with the Jeffersonian legacy traditions.

To paraphrase President Ryan, President Casteen knew UVA was already “great and good,” not in need of Progressive reformation.

ConcernedUVAEmployee
ConcernedUVAEmployee
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter LeQuire

That is correct. This started long before the news was covering it. The intentions were initially good and started even before the turn of the century, but the rot probably started in the mid-2000s…at least that is when I started to see the bad actors in sheep’s clothing.

Clarity77
Clarity77
4 months ago

I agree as to the rot accelerating in the mid-2000s. And even though I enjoyed interacting with Casteen and applauded the advances he made for UVA, in hindsight even he would have to agree that the trauma he personally was subjected as to being held hostage in Madison Hall by the income inequality activists was in large part his own creation by giving employment to increasingly new leftist faculty.

I recall with fondness those days when one could walk up to the front door of Madison Hall and open the door without encountering a prison style video/buzzer/intercome remotely activated door lock.

Dennis Hughes
Dennis Hughes
4 months ago

I believe this legislative action was the result of Ryan’s triggering. Legacies would be, in my opinion, a tradition. Traditions, to the radicals, are likened to monuments. The radicals hate monuments.
From the inception of Ryan’s presidency, he has emasculated, virtually, all of our traditions. Jeffersonian principles, Honor system, fraternities, statutes, etc.
Remember, Ryan wanted to go law school at Berkeley. But when he received the call from someone at Uva law that he could receive a free ride, he came to Virginia.
In my humble opinion, Ryan has been and is an hard left.

Clarity77
Clarity77
4 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Hughes

Not a shadow of a doubt as to Ryan being hard left as he received his indoctrination in undergrad at Yale. By then even attending UVA Law School could not allow him to view Jefferson in a positive light. In sharp contrast, Casteen who was a UVA undergrad. I recall with fondness his writings in UVA Today in which he referred positively on a frequent basis to Jefferson. Although one can speculate it may have been in part to induce alumni contributions, but I maintain Casteen was more Jefferson-friendly than Sullivan and certainly Ryan, both of whom DID NOT attend UVA in undergrad. When Ryan was selected the fact that he did not attend in undergrad was most troubling to me and it has certainly played out in terms of the damage he has done the students current day IMO. I am sure though that his selection obviously was tragically made with a hope given his UVA law school stint that he would inclined to Jefferson’s vision of the pursuit of truth. Calculating in his deception for sure.
And now present day we have the prospect of UVA undergrads being indoctrinated to hate Jefferson such that going forward there is no confidence in choosing a replacement for Ryan who may not in their way “calculate” and give lip service to truth while ultimately casting such aside in deference to the idiocy of social justice.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
4 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Hughes

Dennis Hughes, yes he is. But he is a charming well spoken charlatan who can sound amazingly even tempered.

Philadelphia Lawyer
Philadelphia Lawyer
4 months ago

Multi-generational families in fact disproportionately build the culture that makes UVA special. The relaxation and comfort of the University as a place where young people are truly privileged to study what they’re passionate about, before the demands of work life intervene- are most evident with those who most closely identify with the campus. As that erodes, it will be replaced with a culture of stressed out overachieving math students pursuing Data Science, who aren’t inclined to donate, exacerbating a cycle of future budget issues. Watch UVA join the other good big state schools as yet another advanced trade school for the digital economy. Devoid of Jeffersonian enlightenment and notions of a “good life”. Legacies are an easy target, but are just another “tear it down” DEI bogeyman with no alternative vision, and unfortunately, will yield negative financial and cultural effects in Charlottesville.

Legacy Grad Arch 69'
Legacy Grad Arch 69'
4 months ago

Dad B.S. & M.D. full out of state tuition. Son likewise. It’s fair to ask whether the offspring of higher level professors, administrators, and D.E.I. overseers get an admissions edge?

Steve Walther Com '71
Steve Walther Com '71
4 months ago

Assisting in liberating oppressed populations around the world and condemning militarism are goals I believe Jefferson would have espoused.

Walter smith
Walter smith
4 months ago

Which has what to do with legacy admissions?
And please define”oppressed populations” and the “militarism” to be condemned.
Too generic blathering of a slogan. Specifics!

Steve Walther Com '71
Steve Walther Com '71
4 months ago
Reply to  Walter smith

It has nothing to do with Legacy admissions-it was a comment to a previous article. Sorry I don’t spend as much time on this as you. “militarism” to me is the US’s 600 + military bases around the world and our history of meddling in other countries affairs. Thus the “oppressed” populations. By us.