New Lawsuit: If It's About Merit, End Legacy Admissions

After Supreme Court loss on affirmative action, minority groups challenge Harvard
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2023 1:48 PM CDT
Minority Groups: So Why Are Legacy Admissions Still OK?
An American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court building.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

A civil rights group is challenging legacy admissions at Harvard, saying the practice discriminates against students of color by giving an unfair boost to the mostly white children of alumni. It's the latest effort in a growing push against legacy admissions, the practice of giving admissions priority to the children of alumni, per the AP. Backlash has been building in the wake of last week's Supreme Court's decision ending affirmative action in college admissions. Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit based in Boston, filed the civil rights complaint Monday on behalf of Black and Latino community groups in New England, alleging that Harvard's admissions system violates the Civil Rights Act.

"Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?" said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the group's executive director. "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." Opponents say the practice is no longer defensible without affirmative action providing a counterbalance. The court's ruling says colleges must ignore the race of applicants, activists point out, but schools can still give a boost to the children of alumni and donors.

A separate campaign is urging the alumni of 30 prestigious colleges to withhold donations until their schools end legacy admissions. That initiative, led by Ed Mobilizer, also targets Harvard and other Ivy League schools. President Biden suggested last week that universities should rethink the practice, saying legacy admissions "expand privilege instead of opportunity." Several Democrats in Congress demanded an end to legacy admissions in light of the court's decision, along with Republicans including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is vying for the GOP presidential nomination.

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The new 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. It draws attention to other colleges that have abandoned the practice amid questions about its fairness, including Amherst College and Johns Hopkins University.

(More college admissions stories.)

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