The concentrated wealth at Cornell University is palpable. Large donations, legacy status and well-connected private schools all work in tandem to ensure that over 10 percent of students hail from the wealthiest one percent of families. The trade-off between this history and admissions equity is generally justified with the understanding that the wealth these families bring in — both through full-tuition payments and donations — does a great service to Cornell as a whole, and its low-income students in particular.
In his op-ed last semester, Rory Walsh ’21 said of the money coming in from the families of wealthy students, “If not for their contributions, Cornell would likely be less accessible for low-income students.” The administration hails large donations as “provid[ing] critical, permanent support for faculty, students and programs.” They are correct: The funding derived from these students and their families both improves and makes possible the educational experiences of thousands of Cornell students, and allows for the development of public-oriented research and development, the benefits of which are undeniable. Still, this is a poor bargain — not for Cornell, but for the broader education system in America. The system of legacy and donor priority in admissions ought to be discontinued.