SCOTUS Affirmative Action Ruling Fuels Lawsuit Against Legacy Admissions

“Harvard’s habit of extending a helping hand to the progeny of affluent donors and alumni must come to a halt,” cried an advocate for educational equity.

In a move that threatens to shake the ivy off Ivy League institutions, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based nonprofit, launched a lawsuit on Monday. Representing several Black and Latinx community groups, they argue that Harvard University’s legacy admissions are a blatant breach of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

LCR represents parties like the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network. They are pushing for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to scrutinize Harvard’s preferential treatment of donor and legacy applicants. They’re also urging authorities to deem such admissions as contravening Title VI and are demanding that Harvard put an immediate stop to this practice.

“Why are we rewarding children for privileges and advantages hoarded by previous generations?” asked Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, LCR’s Executive Director. “The name of your family and the girth of your bank account should not determine your admission to college.”

In a twist of legal strategy, the lawsuit leverages data unearthed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent dismantling of affirmative action, which essentially choked colleges’ ability to factor race into admissions. This decision threatens to put the squeeze on countless disadvantaged students, making the climb to higher education even steeper.

“There’s no entitled path to Harvard. The Supreme Court recently underscored that ‘eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it,'” Espinoza-Madrigal stated. “There should be no way to identify who your parents are in the college application process.”

In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, LCR contends that it’s even more critical to eradicate policies that systematically place students of color at a disadvantage.

Data from the affirmative action case revealed that applicants to Harvard with donor connections were nearly seven times more likely to be admitted than those without, and legacy candidates had over six times the odds. Shockingly, around 70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are white.

“Harvard’s practice of favoring the children of wealthy donors and alumni—who’ve done nothing to earn it—must end,” declared Michael Kippins, Litigation Fellow at LCR. “This bias overwhelmingly leans towards white applicants and hampers diversity efforts.”

Around 28% of Harvard’s class of 2019 were legacy admissions, and a mere 57% of admitted white students got in on merit alone.

“Highly deserving applicants of color suffer the consequences, as admission slots are instead awarded to the predominantly white applicants benefitting from Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences,” LCR claimed in a statement.

Numerous higher education institutions—including all in Colorado; the University of California; Johns Hopkins University; and Amherst College—have ditched the practice of favoring donor-related and legacy applicants, deeming it unfair. LCR is hopeful that its lawsuit will set a trend to eradicate legacy admissions across all universities.

“If the federal probe into the civil rights implications of donor and legacy admissions aligns with our views… we’ll witness a transformation not just at Harvard, but at other institutions too,” Espinoza-Madrigal commented on Boston Public Radio. “This could create a domino effect.” The battle lines are drawn, and the fight against privilege-based admissions is heating up.