An advocacy group has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Harvard College, alleging that it favors the “overwhelmingly white” group of legacy candidates — less than a week after the US Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in higher education.
The nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the complaint Monday on behalf of Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network.
The group is challenging Harvard’s “discriminatory practice of giving preferential treatment in the admissions process to applicants with familial ties to wealthy donors and alumni (‘legacy applicants’),” it said in a statement.
“The complaint, alleging widespread violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR),” Lawyers for Civil Rights announced.
The Boston-based group noted that the “complaint comes on the heels of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limited the ability to consider race in college admissions, and argues that it is even more imperative now to eliminate policies that systematically disadvantage students of color.”
In its complaint, Lawyers for Civil Rights said that 70% of the Ivy League school’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white.
“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,” according to the statement.
For the class of 2019, about 28% of the students were legacies with a parent or other relative who attended Harvard, the group said.
“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 continued.
“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. This custom, pattern, and practice is exclusionary and discriminatory. It severely disadvantages and harms applicants of color,” Lawyers for Civil Rights added.
Michael Kippins, a litigation fellow with the group, called for Harvard to end its “practice of giving a leg-up to the children of wealthy donors and alumni — who have done nothing to deserve it — must end.
This preferential treatment overwhelmingly goes to white applicants and harms efforts to diversify.”
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, LCR’s executive director, said “there’s no birthright to Harvard.”
“As the Supreme Court recently noted, ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.’ There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process,” he said in a statement.
“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations? 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,” Espinoza-Madrigal added.
Harvard said it would not comment on the complaint.
“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 university said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
Last week, President Joe Biden suggested that universities should rethink the practice, saying legacy admissions “expand privilege instead of opportunity.”
Several congressional Democrats demanded an end to the policy in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, along with Republicans including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is vying for the GOP presidential nomination.
The court struck down affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, ruling that both institutions were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights law.
An Associated Press survey of the most selective colleges in the US last year found that legacy students in the freshman class ranged from 4% to 23%.
With Post Wires