See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 4.

Yesterday, I wrote (slight edit):

If admitted students in a category, like legacies, have similar academic qualifications than other students in the class then, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.

This seems obvious to me. Now, a nihilist might disagree, might claim that the “holistic” admissions that Harvard and Williams practice make it impossible to compare categories. The galaxy brain of Admissions Director Sulgi Kim ’06 is a multi-splendored emerald of infinite complexity. Mere mortals can no more discern its inner workings than dogs can interpret the movements of the heavenly spheres. I think this position is nuts — and both sides of the Harvard case disagree with it, hence all the regression modelling and expert testimony — but it is logically consistent.

abl, one of EphBlog’s best writers, disagrees with me about legacies:

That’s not true. If literally every legacy applicant was an AR1 and AR2, and legacies were guaranteed admission, you would simultaneously see (1) that legacies have, on average, higher academic credentials than the average student (because the average student at Williams is not an AR1 / AR2); (2) that legacies received a large boost in admissions (because a 100% acceptance rate would represent a very significant advantage for AR1 and AR2 applicants).

[A]ny proportionate (or disproportionately high) number of legacy high performers in the class does not imply that legacy applicants are given no meaningful advantage in the process.

abl continues:

My point is that, without inside knowledge of the process, or without very good knowledge of the applicant pool and relative admit rates, it’s difficult to look at the class of admitted students and draw these sorts of inferences about the advantage of applying as a legacy student.

This is dangerously close to the Sulgi Kim Inestimable Galaxy Brain view of admissions. I have (almost) no “inside knowledge” of the process and not “very good knowledge” of the applicant pool. Almost all my information comes from public statements by college officials. Are you claiming that I can’t know — without inside knowledge — that Williams provides significant advantages to recruited athletes and African-Americans? And, if you agree that I can make those judgments, just what is stopping me from making a judgment, using the same tools and analysis, about the lack of advantages given to legacy applicants?

abl is certainly correct (and he uses a similar example later in his excellent comment) that weird stuff might be happening behind the scenes. There are 55 legacies in the class of 2021. Perhaps 35 are AR1 geniuses, applicants who were also accepted at HYPS but turned them down to come to Williams. The other 20 are AR4 chuckleheads, who never would have gotten in if it were not for their legacy status. This scenario would create a group (55 legacies) with similar academic credentials to the class as a whole, but it would still be the case that 20 of them received a “meaningful” admissions advantage (and 35 did not).

I agree that this is possible, but it also strikes me as highly unlikely. The world is a continuous place.

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