April 10, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘First Generation Student Union Calls on Cornell to Review Legacy Admissions Practice’

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To the Editor:

Earlier this year, the Cornell First Generation Student Union signed onto a letter alongside first-gen, low-income student groups at 12 of our peer institutions. The letter called upon our respective university administrations to disclose and re-evaluate the purpose of legacy preferences in admissions decisions.

A day after the #FullDisclosure campaign launched through an Associated Press press release and an article in The Atlantic, The Cornell Daily Sun reported on our decision to join the campaign. The article was solely based off the #FullDisclosure letter, and an interview with FGSU’s Co-President, Mayra Valadez ‘18 and another Cornell student who is a legacy. This letter aims to clarify and expand upon our arguments for re-evaluating legacy admissions that were not covered or covered sufficiently in the article.

Contrary to The Sun’s framing of our argument, the #FullDisclosure campaign neither aims to discredit the talents or academic qualifications of legacy students, nor denies the benefits of legacy students to Cornell’s yield rate. Rather, #FullDisclosure’s goal is for complete transparency, as aggregate data suggest that legacy preferences in admissions decisions benefit the wealthy. When Cornell discloses its practices, we can take a closer look at whether this trend is reflected at our school.

A Cornell alumnus and a prominent voice for educational equity is speaking out against legacy preferences in admissions decisions. Harold O. Levy ’74 J.D. ‘79, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and former Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. He argued that legacy admissions hamper economic mobility, and that elite colleges “make efforts to open up access to low-income students while at the same time culling applications in ways that give an advantage to the very wealthy.”

FGSU joined onto the #FullDisclosure campaign because we firmly believe it is important that Cornell University, as a land-grant institution, a private university with state-endowed colleges, a research institution with a Center for the Study of Inequality, a recipient of federal financial aid funding via Pell and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and an institution that was founded on the principle of “any person, any study,” owes it to students, parents and alumni, to fully disclose the role of legacy preferences in admissions decisions.

We ask that students and alumni sign this petition expressing their support to disclose and re-evaluate legacy admissions through the #FullDisclosure campaign.

Mayra Valadez ’18
President, First Generation Student Union