Harvard’s practice of giving preference to undergraduate applicants with family ties to the elite college faces a legal challenge.
Advocacy groups have called on the government to stop admissions to Ivy League universities.
Politics has always been seen as an advantage for the whites and the wealthy.
The federal complaint comes days after the Supreme Court ruled that Harvard and other US colleges can no longer rate race as a major factor in admissions.
In a landmark decision Thursday, the nation’s highest court voted 6-3 to overturn affirmative action, a decades-old measure.
Affirmative action has long been advocated as a useful policy for increasing diversity on college campuses, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the process used by Harvard and others “selects winners and losers on the basis of the color of their skin.”
Spurred on by the decision, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) — a Boston-based nonprofit — filed a federal civil rights complaint Monday against Harvard University for giving “special preference in the admissions process to hundreds of white students — not because of anything they’ve accomplished, It is only because of their relatives.”
The complaint was filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging a violation 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 show that nearly 70% of donor- and inheritance-related applicants are white, and that these students are six to seven times more likely to be accepted to Harvard than others. Legacy Applicants: The NBER report also adds that among white students who gain admission, more than 43% are athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff.
He adds that these preferences “are granted without regard to the qualifications or merits of the applicant” and “systematically disadvantage students of color.”
Filed on behalf of three groups representing Black and Latino communities in the New England area, the complaint calls for the Department of Education to investigate Harvard’s old preferences, deeming them illegal and ordering the university to end the practice if it wishes to continue receiving federal funds.
“There is no birthright at Harvard,” LCR CEO Ivan Espinosa Madrigal said in a statement. As the Supreme Court recently noted, “the elimination of racial discrimination means the elimination of it entirely.”
He added, “Why do we reward children for the privileges and benefits they received from previous generations? Your family name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit, nor should they have an impact on the college admissions process.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee agreed. The California Democrat wrote on Twitter: “Let’s be clear: affirmative action still exists for whites. It’s called legacy confessions.”
Harvard declined to comment on Monday’s complaint, but directed the BBC to its response last week to the Supreme Court ruling.
The university said in a statement Thursday that it will continue to welcome “people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.”
Legacy admissions has already been banned at institutions including UCLA and all public universities in Colorado, 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 is building a strong alumni community and donor base.
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