updated 8/6/2004 3:58:20 PM ET 2004-08-06T19:58:20

President Bush, who followed his father and grandfather to Yale University despite an undistinguished academic record, said Friday that colleges should get rid of “legacy” admission preferences that favor the sons and daughters of alumni.

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“I think it ought to be based on merit,” Bush told a conference of minority journalists when he was pressed about his views on affirmative action. “And I think colleges need to work hard for diversity.”

Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, and his grandfather, the late Sen. Prescott Bush, were awarded degrees at Yale, and his daughter, Barbara, graduated from Yale this year.

Colleges’ admission processes have never been equal for everyone. Universities have been known — and criticized — for making special allowances for athletes and children of donors and alumni.

Asked directly if colleges should eliminate legacy preferences, Bush said, “Well, I think so, yes.”

Most selective colleges and many public universities favor legacy applicants as a way to build family loyalty and boost fund raising. Colleges respond that legacies are often stronger applicants to begin with, and insist they largely consider legacy status only to break ties between well-qualified applicants.

A member of a politically influential family, Bush graduated from Yale in 1968 and didn’t try to hide that he had enjoyed the party life in college and had taken — as he put it — the “academic road less traveled.” Returning to Yale four months after moving into the White House, Bush said with a grin, “To the ’C’ students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

“In my case I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man’s footsteps,” Bush said Friday, although it wasn’t clear if he was talking about Yale or the White House.

Bush told the minority journalists that he opposed quota systems in college admissions but “I support colleges affirmatively taking action to get more minorities in their school.”

But as for legacy admissions, Bush said there should not be “a special exception for certain people in a system that’s supposed to be fair.”

The Supreme Court ruled a year ago that race can be one of the factors that colleges use to pick their students, so long as it is not the only factor. The court held that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups or put members of those groups on different admission tracks.

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