The U.S. Department of Education is taking up a civil rights complaint over Harvard University’s legacy admissions policies, a long-standing practice critics say is unfairly biased toward children of alumni and wealthy donors.
The complaint was filed earlier this month by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of several black and Hispanic activist groups in the Boston area. It urges the federal government to investigate Harvard’s admissions process, which allegedly favors an “overwhelmingly white” group of legacy candidates.
In the complaint, which came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared the use of race as a factor in college admissions to be unconstitutional, Lawyers for Civil Rights said that 70 percent of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white.
“They receive a substantial boost based on their status,” the group said. “Donor-related applicants are nearly 7 times more likely to be admitted than non-donor-related applicants, and legacies are nearly 6 times more likely to be admitted.”
For the class of 2019, about 28 percent of the students were legacies with a parent or other relative who attended Harvard, according to the group.
“Qualified and highly deserving applicants of color are harmed as a result, as admissions slots are given instead to the overwhelmingly white applicants who benefit from Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences,” it argued. “Even worse, this preferential treatment has nothing to do with an applicant’s merit. Instead, it is an unfair and unearned benefit that is conferred solely based on the family that the applicant is born into.”
A spokesperson for the Education Department confirmed that the Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation at Harvard, but declined to provide further details.
Meanwhile, a Harvard spokesperson said the Ivy League school has been reviewing its admissions policies to make sure everything is in line with the Supreme Court ruling on racial preferences.
“As this work continues, and moving forward, Harvard remains dedicated to opening doors to opportunity and to redoubling our efforts to encourage students from many different backgrounds to apply for admission,” the spokesperson said.
The idea of eliminating legacy admissions has seen limited support at the state level. In May 2021, Colorado became the first—and so far remains the only—state to adopt a law banning legacy admissions in publicly funded colleges and universities.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said at that time the law will help push higher education institutions across the state “towards being meritocracies,” although he also signed a bill that allows public universities to not require applicants to submit standardized test scores.
“This law makes sure that just because your parent or grandparent went to one of our colleges in Colorado, that doesn’t mean that you automatically get in,” the governor said at the bill signing ceremony. “Because they could take the spot from somebody who is more worthy of that spot.”
At the individual school level, however, more prestigious institutions are joining the movement to do away with preferential treatment in admissions to those who have familial or financial ties to the school. Notable examples include Amherst College in Massachusetts, Carnegie Melon University in Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, and Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
While the call to end legacy admissions is mostly voiced by progressive activists, it does have conservative advocates like William Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School and outspoken critic of the “woke” culture on American college campuses.
“The legacy and donor preference may benefit wealthy whites, but they also increasing benefit wealthy college-graduate blacks and other non-white groups,” the professor wrote in a blog post.
At the end of the day, it was the white students from lower- and middle-income families who would become the most disadvantaged, since they “receive zero preference: Not race, not legacy, not donor,” Mr. Jacobson argued.
“I am against legacy admissions preferences regardless of whether they have a racial impact on admissions, because they contribute to a cronyism that shifts the focus from the individual’s merits to the school’s interest in developing alumni fundraising,” he explained. “I’d like to see all identity-group admissions preferences eliminated to level the playing field and to increase the focus on the intrinsic merit of each applicant without regard to group identity.”
From The Epoch Times