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Complaint from civil rights group seeks to end legacy admissions at Harvard

July 6, 2023
The complaint argues that granting admissions to children of alumni results in fewer spots for qualified minority applicants.

A civil rights group is challenging legacy admissions at Harvard University, saying the practice discriminates against students of color by giving an unfair boost to the children of alumni, most of whom are white.

The Associated Press reports that the civil rights complaint has been filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, on behalf of Black and Latino community groups in New England. The complaint contends that Harvard’s admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act.

The practice of giving priority to the children of alumni has faced growing pushback in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court’s decision ending affirmative action in higher education. 

The complaint, submitted with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, draws on Harvard data that came to light amid the affirmative action case that landed before the Supreme Court. The 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.

Opponents of legacy admissions say the practice is no longer defensible without affirmative action providing a counterbalance.

The complaint asserts that Harvard’s legacy preference has nothing to do with merit and takes away slots from qualified students of color. It asks the U.S. Education Department to declare the practice illegal and force Harvard to abandon it as long as the university receives federal funding.

“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,” according to the complaint. If legacy and donor preferences were removed, it adds, “more students of color would be admitted to Harvard.”

Harvard said it would not comment on the complaint.

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