A sign hangs on the gate of a building at Harvard University on July 6, 2023 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.
Brian Snyder | Reuters
Opening a new front in the legal battle over college admissions, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into Harvard University’s policies. Legacy admissions.
Top colleges’ preferential treatment of children of former students, who are often white, has faced increasing scrutiny since the Supreme Court struck down last month. Use of affirmative action As a tool to promote the presence of students of color.
The department notified Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based nonprofit, on Monday that it was investigating. Group claim which accuses the university of “discriminating on the basis of race using donor and legacy preferences in the undergraduate admissions process.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed that its Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Harvard. The agency declined to comment further.
The complaint was filed earlier this month by black and Latino community groups in New England. The group argued that students with legacy ties are seven times more likely to get into Harvard, make up about a third of a class and are about 70 percent white. For the Class of 2019, about 28% of the class had a parent or other relative who attended Harvard.
“Eligible and highly deserving applicants of color are disadvantaged as a result, as admissions spots are awarded to white applicants who benefit from Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences,” the group said in a statement. “Worse still, this preferential treatment has nothing to do with the applicant’s merit. Instead, it is an unfair and unearned advantage that is given solely on the basis of the family the applicant is born into.”
A Harvard spokeswoman said Tuesday that the university has been reviewing its admissions policies to ensure compliance with the law since the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision.
“As this work continues, and moving forward, Harvard is dedicated to redouble our efforts to open doors of opportunity and encourage students from many different backgrounds to apply for admission.”
Eliminating legacy preferences is “one of many steps that Harvard and other universities can take to increase access, diversity and equity in admissions,” said Jane Sujinbok, a board member of the Alliance for Diverse Harvard, which includes alumni, students and staff.
Previous Week, Wesleyan University in Connecticut announced that it would end its policy of giving preferential treatment in admissions to those whose families have a historical connection to the school. Wesleyan President Michael Roth said a student’s “heritage status” played a negligible role in admissions, but now it will be eliminated entirely.
In recent years, schools including Amherst College in Massachusetts, Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland have also eliminated legacy admissions.
Inheritance policies have been called into question following a Supreme Court ruling last month that banned affirmative action and any form of race in college admissions. The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned 45-year-old cases, forcing institutions of higher education to find new ways to embrace student diversity.
Derek Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said he praised the Department of Education for taking steps to ensure the higher education system “works for every American, not just a privileged few.”
“Every talented and qualified student deserves the opportunity to attend the college of their choice. Affirmative action exists to support that notion. Legacy admissions exists to undermine it,” he said.
This is revealed in a study led by Harvard and Brown researchers published on Monday. Wealthier students were twice as likely to be admitted to elite schools compared to their low- or middle-income counterparts with similar test scores.
The study, which looked at family income and admissions data at the Ivy League and Stanford, MIT, Duke and the University of Chicago, found that legacy admissions policies are a contributing factor to the advantage that high-income students receive at these schools. Athletic recruiting and extracurricular credentials, which are strengthened when students attend affluent private high schools, were two other factors.