President of Johns Hopkins University Emerges as Vocal Critic of Legacy Admissions

In an address to the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) in January, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) President Ronald J. Daniels urged colleges and universities to do a better job of promoting and sustaining democracy and called for an end to the “pernicious” practice of legacy admissions, according to JHU’s online news site.

Eliminating legacy admissions, which gives preferential treatment to applicants who are children or grandchildren of alumni, is necessary if American higher education is to fulfill its core purpose of supporting social mobility, cultivating diverse perspectives, and promoting scientific inquiry, Daniels argued.

JHU quietly phased out this practice once Daniels took office in 2009, according to The Washington Post. The university enacted a need-blind admissions policy instead, which was enhanced by a $1.8 billion donation by alumnus and politician Michael Bloomberg in 2018.

As a result, the percentage of admitted students with family ties to JHU fell from 12.5 percent to 3.5 percent between 2009 and 2019, the Post reports. By contrast, the number of highly qualified low-income students increased from 9 percent to 19 percent over the same time period.

In a recent interview with the newspaper, Daniels again spoke out against legacy admissions, which he described as a “peculiar institution” in reference to American slavery. The tradition is “deeply perplexing given the country’s deep commitments to merit and equal opportunity,” he stated.

Ginger O’Donnell is the assistant editor for INSIGHT Into Diversity. This article ran in the March 2020 issue.