On Monday, the Boston nonprofit, Lawyers for Civil Rights, filed a lawsuit “challenging legacy admissions at Harvard University.”
The civil rights group is petitioning the federal government days after the Supreme Court banned affirmative action on the basis of race. The group is asking for legacy admissions to also be declared illegal and for Harvard to abstain from using it during admissions so long as they are recipients of federal funds.
The complaint was filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “on behalf of two Massachusetts nonprofits, Chica Project and African Community Economic Development of New England, as well as The Greater Boston Latino Network; all three organizations champion access to education for people of color and advocate fiercely to ‘close the opportunity divide’ between white and nonwhite residents.”
Drawing on data that arose when the affirmative action case came before the high court, the complaint asserts that Harvard’s alleged legacy admissions practice is a violation of “federal civil rights law because they overwhelmingly benefit White applicants and disadvantage those who are of color.” The numbers seem to corroborate the claim—“records revealed that 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.”
Language from the complaint states “A spot given to a legacy or donor-related applicant is a spot that becomes unavailable to an applicant who meets the admissions criteria based purely on his or her own merit.” It also contends that “more students of color would be admitted to Harvard” if there were no preferences for legacy and donor applicants.
“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?” stated Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the civil rights group. “Your family’s last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, and should have no bearing on the college admissions process.”
Adversaries of legacy admissions believe that the practice is no longer justifiable without race-based affirmative action providing the much-needed offset.
Last week, President Biden suggested that legacy admissions in higher education should be reconsidered, stating they “expand privilege instead of opportunity.” The President also said legacy admissions “‘stand in the way’ of campus diversity.”
Harvard is declining to comment on the case, but did point to a previous statement the Ivy League university issued.
“Last week, the University reaffirmed its commitment to the fundamental principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.” The statement continued, “As we said, in the weeks and months ahead, the University will determine how to preserve our essential values, consistent with the Court’s new precedent.”