Harvard sued over ‘legacy admissions’ after Supreme Court targets affirmative action

70 per cent of the college’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white, reporting finds

Alex Woodward
Monday 03 July 2023 15:39 BST
Biden says 'discrimination still exists' in America after Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action

Days after the US Supreme Court struck down race-conscious university admissions, civil rights groups have filed a federal civil rights complaint targeting so-called “legacy” admissions at Harvard University.

The complaint, alleging widespread discrimination at the college in violation of the Civil Rights Act, is the latest challenge to the practice of prioritising university admissions for the children of alumni.

“There’s no birthright to Harvard. As the Supreme Court recently noted, ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.’ There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed the complaint on 3 July.

“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages accrued by prior generations?” he said in a statement. “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.”

The group filed the complaint on behalf of the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network.

Last week, the conservative supermajority on the nation’s highest court ruled that private and public colleges and universities may not consider race as a factor in admissions, striking down the precedent affirmed in the 2003 ruling in Grutter v Bollinger.

Civil rights advocates and justices who supported the decades-long precedent, intended to promote racially diverse college campuses, derided what they argue is the court’s ongoing perversion of the 14th Amendment and the foundational concept of equal protection.

The latest legal challenge points to Harvard data finding that 70 per cent of the college’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white.

So-called “legacy” applicants have a roughly six times greater chance of admission, according to records, pointing to a “custom, pattern and practice” that is “exclusionary and discriminatory” and “severely disadvantages and harms applicants of color,” plaintiffs argued.

The complaint calls on the US Department of Education to initiate a federal investigation into Harvard’s application process and for the federal government to declare such practices illegal.

“Harvard’s practice of giving a leg-up to the children of wealthy donors and alumni – who have done nothing to deserve it – must end,” Lawyers for Civil Rights litigation fellow Michael Kippins said in a statement accompanying the complaint.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden urged universities to reconsider their legacy admissions, which he said “expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

The Independent has requested comment from Harvard.

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