In response to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that gutted affirmative action, three civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against Harvard University’s admissions process, specifically taking aim at legacy and donor admissions. The lawsuit was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR).
Before last week’s Supreme Court ruling, race, along with many other factors, was allowed to be considered in a holistic review of college applications. But last week, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to consider race in college admissions.
The Court’s ruling kept intact legacy admits, athletic recruits, the children of donors, faculty members, and VIPs, and consideration for applicants who are eligible for financial aid.
The lawsuit filed against Harvard by Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE), and the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN), states that legacy and donor admissions unfairly benefit White students. The playing field is even more unbalanced now that the Supreme Court has struck down affirmative action, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint was filed on July 3 with the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It alleges widespread violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Using Harvard’s data that was revealed during the Supreme Court’s affirmative action case, the lawsuit details how nearly 70 percent of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are White and receive “a substantial boost based on their status,” and that “donor-related applicants are nearly 7 times more likely to be admitted than non-donor-related applicants, and legacies are nearly 6 times more likely to be admitted.”
Consequently, qualified applicants of color are harmed as a result, the lawsuit states, as admissions slots are given instead to the overwhelmingly White applicants who benefit from Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences and would not have been admitted otherwise.
“There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of LCR in a statement. “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.”
To underscore the point, the lawsuit pointed to the Supreme Court’s own majority ruling that said, “College admissions are zero-sum, and a benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former at the expense of the latter.”
The complaint also pointed to universities that discontinued their legacy and donor admissions preference policies—Texas A&M, the University of Georgia, and the University of California—and reportedly experienced more campus diversity as a result.
The complaint urges the DOE to declare legacy and donor preference illegal and to order Harvard to cease these admissions if the university is to continue receiving federal funds.
In addition to the lawsuit, on July 3, the NAACP issued a call to action for more than 1,600 U.S. public and private colleges and universities with selective admissions processes to commit to a “Diversity No Matter What” pledge following the Supreme Court’s reversal of affirmative action.
The pledge calls for the elimination of racially biased entrance examinations; the end of legacy preferences; an increase in faulty diversity; and increased support and partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, and other “minority-serving institutions that have deeply rooted race-conscious missions.”
“Let’s be clear—Black America is in a fight for our lives,” said NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “The NAACP has been at the forefront of this battle for more than a century and we’re not backing down. It is our hope that our nation’s institutions will stand with us in embracing diversity, no matter what.
“Regardless, the NAACP will continue to advocate, litigate, and mobilize to ensure that every Black American has access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.”