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70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white, and being a legacy student makes an applicant roughly six times more likely to be admitted.


[E]lite places become these little islands where rich people pass down their advantages to their kids. They marry each other. They invest massively in their kids. Their kids then go to these exclusive schools. They move to the same few metro areas. And people who don’t grow up in these kinds of resource-rich families are really left behind. We’ve created a caste society based on who gets into what exclusive colleges.


After the death of affirmative action as (per SCOTUS) unfair preference, the complex business of legacy admits seems also to be circling the drain.

The word “legacy” covers not merely people admitted to selective schools because close relatives attended; it also can involve super-rich people donating (or likely to donate) multiple millions to buy a seat at these schools for their children. And it can have to do with talented athletes (most of them from expensive private secondary schools) admitted for their athletic rather than academic skill. It usually exhibits a mix of some of these elements.

Let’s look at a notorious case that in fact contains every one of these elements.

George Huguely, currently rotting in jail for killing his ex-girlfriend, was a legacy admit to the University of Virginia. “George III, George V’s grandfather, went to Sidwell Friends and the University of Virginia.” A friend of Huguely’s at the expensive, prestigious prep school he attended comments: “He was not a great student, but he didn’t care.” He was a great lacrosse player.

A hopeless alcoholic from a young age (Huguely’s father showed him how), Huguely boasted several booze-related arrests, including a quite serious one in Lexington, Virginia while he was a UVa student:

Officer Rebecca Moss discovered Huguely wobbling drunk into traffic near a fraternity at Washington and Lee University. She told him to find a ride home or face arrest. He began screaming obscenities and making threats. [Apparently he said “I’ll kill all you bitches.“]

“Stop resisting,” Moss said. “You’re only making matters worse.”

Moss and another female officer tried to subdue Huguely. He became “combative,” the police chief reported. Moss stunned him with a Taser, put him in a squad car, and took him to the police station.

At his court hearing a month later, Huguely said he didn’t remember much about the night and apologized. He pleaded guilty to public swearing, intoxication, and resisting arrest. He was fined $100 and given a 60-day suspended sentence.

Huguely bragged about the incident to [UVa] friends…

Some of these friends were, like Huguely, part of a drunk, entitled, obnoxious sometimes to the point of violence, rich lacrosse player culture where you don’t rat out buddies even if you know they’re really really dangerous and out of control. One assumes most of these friends laughed drunkenly along with Huguely as he detailed the latest incident in which he got away with… not murder. Not yet. But things were escalating, and some of his friends certainly knew he was threatening his ex-girlfriend and assaulting people he thought she was dating and just being a really scary violent crazy piece of shit.

It’s certainly worth asking what sort of subculture sees all of this and does nothing. It’s certainly worth asking how a non-academic, violent, total alcoholic with a criminal record was rewarded with an extremely competitive seat at one of the nation’s greatest universities. What did his prep school teachers and coaches, many of whom must have known or guessed how incredibly dangerous he was, write in their letters of recommendation about him? (Think also about poor drunk well-connected short-lived Paul Murdaugh, still a student in good standing at the University of South Carolina despite having recently killed a young woman and injured others while drunkenly at the helm of a family boat. Like Huguely, he already had a bunch of booze-related run-ins with police.

Two months after he was sprung from jail, a judge removed the only condition of his release — allowing him to travel outside the 14th Judicial Circuit, according to the news outlet.

Although he faced BUI charges, the state did not restrict him from drinking alcohol or driving a boat, the report said.

Another entitled rich kid given one free pass after another until… Well, one can’t help feeling for Paul Murdaugh. His own father murdered him.)


“I was drinking a lot all the time, all the way from my freshman year to my senior year,” Huguely said at his trial. “I was drinking all the time. It was out of control.”


Look. My point isn’t that legacy admits are murderers and degenerates. Most of them are pleasant well-meaning non-Ivy League material. But there’s a really anti-social pathology underlying the culture of lifelong consequence-free unearned social rewards of which some (not all) legacy admits are Exhibit A. The Varsity Blues criminal syndicate, and whatever current bogus athletics conspiracy has replaced it, is merely the crude extension of the basic legacy M.O. The socially acceptable con game of legacy admits makes the world safe for the scandal of Varsity Blues.


And can you think of anything more morally corrosive than knowing that your corrupt parents and a corrupt institution engineered your sorry ass into a seat at Harvard? Knowing that you’re little more than a cold hard cash epiphenomenon to the institution – does that bother you at all? Does it feel like a prefiguration of your entire entitled life? Here’s a bunch of nice people getting me into Harvard; here’s a bunch of nice people showing me how to evade taxes. And so it goes.


The tragedy of wealth-based admissions is that wealthy students are taking up seats from the poor, unconnected students who need them most. This is not a victimless crime.

…  [C]ollege leaders … sell access while squatting on multibillion-dollar endowments and spending vast sums of money on palatial campus buildings, leadership compensation, and administrative bloat.

And you’re paying for it:

… If a donor earns seven figures a year and lives in California, taxpayers can wind up subsidizing more than 52 cents of every dollar used to buy his child’s way into college. Even in states with less exorbitant tax rates, taxpayers routinely pick up more than 40% of the tab. That’s because these kinds of donations are wholly tax deductible: As long as there’s no explicit quid pro quo agreement, the IRS allows parents to write off their influence-peddling donations in full.

… Offering a special admissions track to the wealthy on the taxpayer’s dime impedes equal opportunity, rewards influence peddling, and robs the public. It’s time for a change. Colleges and universities should be places of opportunity, not institutions where background or wealth determine success. Wealthy applicants should have to earn their place in a university by the same rules as everyone else.

… We should press college officials to mean what they say about opportunity and equity, and to spend less time strong-arming wealthy donors. But at a bare minimum, we should get taxpayers out of the business of subsidizing campus shakedown artists.

And when I say pathology: Harvard is currently squatting on 53 billion dollars. It has yet more from other sources. And because the government, risibly, continues to consider it a non-profit institution, it enjoys amazing tax breaks. What sort of fucked up institution is still trading its integrity for more money under these circumstances?

Margaret Soltan, July 3, 2023 3:21PM
Posted in: harvard: foreign and domestic policy

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