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New federal complaint targets Harvard legacy admissions, argues they violate federal law


Minority groups filed the complaint several days after the Supreme Court rulings overturning affirmative action in higher education

Three black and Latino groups filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Harvard University on Monday alleging the institution’s preferential treatment for legacy and donor applicants violates civil rights law.

Lawyers representing the Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network brought the civil rights complaint against Harvard, claiming the school’s practice of favoring candidates with ties to alumni and large donors “disproportionately advantage[s] white applicants.”

According to the complaint, filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such practices also “systematically disadvantage students of color, including Black, Latinx, and Asian Americans.”

Title VI states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The minority group’s filing followed the Supreme Court’s decision last Thursday overturning the use of affirmative action in higher education through two landmark decisions, ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in cases that targeted admissions policies at Harvard and at the University of North Carolina.

The minority plaintiffs in Monday’s complaint cited Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, one of the landmark cases that overturned affirmative action last week.

According to the federal complaint, “because Harvard receives substantial federal funds, it is bound by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…which forbid practices that have an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of race.”

It continued:

Because Harvard only admits a certain number of students each year, a spot given
to a legacy or donor-related applicant is a spot that becomes unavailable to an applicant who meets the admissions criteria based purely on his or her own merit; ‘[c]ollege admissions are zero sum,’ as the Supreme Court recently emphasized.

In other words, Harvard admits predominantly white students using Donor and Legacy Preferences, and, as a direct result, excludes non-white applicants.

Even more, the complaint requests that the U.S. Department of Education examine Harvard’s admissions policies, state that legacy-preferential admissions violate Title VI, and announce that Harvard must cease the consideration of legacy and donor admissions to continue receiving federal funds.

“Harvard University will not comment on the complaint,” Nicole Rura, a spokesperson for Harvard, told The College Fix via email.

“Last week…the University reaffirmed its commitment to the fundamental principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences,” Rura continued.

Harvard wrote in an open letter to its community last week that it “will certainly comply with the Court’s decision” regarding affirmative action.

The June 29 memo from President Lawrence Bacow and more than a dozen deans and provosts also cited a line in the affirmative action ruling that stated colleges and universities may consider in admissions decisions “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

“In the weeks and months ahead, drawing on the talent and expertise of our Harvard community, we will determine how to preserve, consistent with the Court’s new precedent, our essential values,” the university continued.

The College Fix requested comment from the attorneys representing the Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network. No response has been received.

Editor’s note: The article has been amended to clarify the groups filed a complaint.

MORE: Ending affirmative action is ‘white supremacy,’ Democrats say

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Georgia Lucas is a student of the University of North Carolina Pembroke majoring in nursing. She is involved in Students for Life of America and also writes for Campus Reform.