Harvard’s practice of granting preference to undergraduate applicants with family ties to the elite college is facing a legal challenge.
Advocacy groups have petitioned the government to stop the Ivy League university’s legacy admissions.
The policy has long been seen as a perk for the white and wealthy.
The federal complaint comes days after the Supreme Court ruled Harvard and other US colleges could no longer weigh race as a key factor in admissions.
In a landmark decision on Thursday, the nation’s highest court voted 6-3 to repeal affirmative action, a decades-old measure.
Affirmative action has long been defended as a policy useful for increasing diversity on university campuses, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that the process used by Harvard and others “picks winners and losers based on the color of their skin”.
Spurred by that decision, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) – a Boston-based non-profit – filed a federal civil rights complaint on Monday against Harvard for granting “special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students – not because of anything they have accomplished, but rather solely because of who their relatives are”.
The complaint was filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Harvard declined to comment.
The complaint cites studies published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a think tank, that shows nearly 70% of legacy and donor-related applicants are white, and that such students are six to seven times more likely to be admitted to Harvard than non-legacy applicants.The NBER report further adds that among white students granted admission, over 43% are from athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff.
It goes on to state that these preferences are “conferred without regard to the applicant’s credentials or merits” and “systematically disadvantage students of colour”.
Filed on behalf of three groups representing black and Latino communities in the New England region, the complaint calls on the Department of Education to investigate Harvard’s legacy preferences, deem them illegal and order the university to end the practice if it wishes to keep receiving federal funds.
“There’s no birth right to Harvard,” LCR’s executive director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal said in a statement. “As the Supreme Court recently noted, ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it’.”
He added: “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.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee agreed. The California Democrat tweeted: “Let’s be clear: affirmative action still exists for white people. It’s called legacy admissions.”
Harvard declined to comment on Monday’s complaint, but directed the BBC to its response last week to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In Thursday’s statement, the university said it would continue to welcome “people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences”.
Legacy admissions have already been banned at institutions including the University of California and all of Colorado’s public universities, with several efforts targeting the practice elsewhere.
But it still accounts for nearly a quarter of newly admitted students at some of the nation’s top schools, and supporters argue the policy builds a strong alumni community and donor base.
Source : BBC