It’s been called Affirmative Action for the Rich: Harvard’s admissions treatment for students whose parents were alumni, or whose relatives donated money. And in a complaint filed Monday, a legal activist group called on the federal government to end it, arguing that justice was more urgent after the Supreme Court last week severely limited race-informed admissions.
Three groups in the Boston area have asked that the Department of Education review the practice, saying the college’s admissions policies discriminated against black, Hispanic and Asian applicants, in favor of less qualified white candidates with alumni and donors.
“Why do we reward children for the privileges and advantages acquired by previous generations?” asked Ivan Espinosa Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is handling the case. “Your family last name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, and they should have no bearing on the college admissions process.”
The liberal groups’ complaint comes days after a conservative group, Students for Fair Admissions, won the Supreme Court case. It adds to accelerating pressure on Harvard and other selective colleges to remove special preferences for children of alumni and donors.
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which will review the complaint, may already be preparing an investigation. In a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision, President Biden said he would ask the department to examine “practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege rather than opportunity.”
Harvard spokeswoman Nicole Roura said the school would not have comment on the complaint, but reiterated a statement from last week: “As we said, in the coming weeks and months, the university will determine how to uphold our core values, consistent with the court’s new precedent.”
Colleges argue that this practice helps build community and encourages donations, which can be used for financial aid.
A poll released last year by the Pew Research Center found that a growing share of the public — 75 percent — thinks old preferences shouldn’t be a factor in who gets accepted to a college.
The call to eliminate legacies and donor preferences has recently grown across the political spectrum.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted that if the Supreme Court “had been serious about their ridiculous claims of ‘color blindness,’ it would have struck down admission to the legacy, also known as Affirmative Action for the privileged.”
Senator Tim Scott, R-South Carolina Republican and presidential candidate, said on “The Faulkner Focus,” a Fox News program, “One of the things Harvard can do to make this better is eliminate any old programs where there is preferential treatment for older children.”
Peter Arcidiocono, a Duke University economist who analyzed the Harvard data, is found A traditional white applicant has five times more chances of admission than a non-traditional white applicant.
However, eliminating old preferences at Harvard, the study says, will not make up for the loss in diversity if race-informed acceptance is also eliminated.
In their decision on the race-informed confessions, some Supreme Court justices criticized the inherited confessions. Judge Neil M. tent throughout their lives. While their faces are also race-neutral, these preferences undoubtedly benefit white and wealthy applicants the most.”
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to inherited confessions, arguing that the persistence of race-based preferences was only fair in light of the fact that most of the pieces in the admissions puzzle “frown upon underrepresented racial minorities.”
While Colorado adopted a law in 2021 banning admissions to public universities, the legislation has gained little traction in Congress and several other states.
A bill introduced in New York last year was opposed by the state’s private school association, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, which includes highly selective colleges like Columbia, Cornell and Colgate.
In Connecticut, where lawmakers held a hearing on the issue last year, Yale University was among the private schools that came out in opposition. With written testimonyJeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, called the proposed ban government interference in the university’s affairs.
Selective private universities, in particular, have been slow to eliminate legacies, with MIT, Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College among the few elite schools not using it.
In a press release last month describing the fall semester, the first since the college eliminated legacy preferences, Amherst announced that the number of first-generation students in the school’s fall semester would be higher than ever — 19 percent — while the number of students with legacies had fallen to 6 percent. Previously, legacies made up 11 percent of the class.
The complaint was filed with the Department of Education by three groups – the Chica Project, the Economic Development of the African Community of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network.
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