TO lawsuit has been brought against Harvard University on behalf of black and Latino organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to constitutionally eliminate affirmative action.

Boston, Massachusetts-based nonprofit Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) filed the complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that Harvard University’s admissions system violated Title XI of the Civil Rights Act. . The lawsuit looks at the university’s legacy admissions record.

Harvard, along with the University of North Carolina, was part of the affirmative action lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court after the conservative organization Students for Fair Admissions, led by Edward Blum, challenged the use of race-based admissions. in all the country.

Michael Kippens, an LCR litigation fellow, told Newsweek by phone that the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action “increased the urgency of asking the Department of Education to investigate” donor preferences and legacy , making it more “critical and crucial” for such preferences. removed to create a fair and equitable admissions process with respect to applicants of color.

“Why are we rewarding children for the privileges and advantages accrued by previous generations?” said the executive director of LCR, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, in a statement. “Your family name and the size of your bank account are not a measure of merit and should not influence the college admissions process.”

The newly filed lawsuit alleges that students who receive preferential treatment, defined as “donor and bequest preferences,” make up up to 15 percent of students admitted to Harvard and “are much more likely to be accepted than other applicants.”

Harvard Legacy Admissions
Students on the Harvard Law School campus in Cambridge, MA. Harvard Law School is the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. Harvard was sued Monday over its legacy record and donor preferences in college admissions.
Brooks Kraft/Corbis/Getty

The complaint was filed on behalf of the African Community Economic Development of New England, the Chica Project, and the Greater Boston Latino Network. news week contacted all three groups by email for comment.

“Each year, Harvard College gives special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students, not because of anything they have accomplished, but solely because of who they are related to,” the lawsuit says.

“We would like the Department of Education to open an investigation into this preferential treatment,” Kippens said of the intent of the lawsuit. “Opening an investigation is the first step. Second, declaring that this practice of offering preferences to applicants is discriminatory because it heavily favors white applicants.”

He cited data, also included in the lawsuit, that roughly 70 percent of legacy and donor-related applicants are white. Additionally, between the years 2014 and 2019, donor-related applicants were almost seven times more likely to be admitted compared to non-donor-related applicants, while legacy applicants were almost six times more likely to be admitted compared to non-inherited applicants.

Such preferences are not justified by any educational necessity because Harvard cannot demonstrate that the use of these preferences is necessary to achieve any important educational goal, the lawsuit claims, adding: “The benefit derives simply from being born into a particular family “.

A DOE spokesperson said news week that OCR does not confirm complaints.

A Harvard spokesman also declined to comment. news weekinstead of issuing a prepared statement.

“Last week, the University reaffirmed its commitment to the founding principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend on a community made up of people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences,” the statement read. “As we said, in the coming weeks and months, the University will determine how to preserve our core values, consistent with the new Court precedent.”

A ‘more creative’ college admissions process

President Joe Biden regretted the affirmative action decision for “threatening to turn the country back,” asking colleges and universities to know prospective students’ financial means, city of origin, and “personal experiences of hardship or discrimination, including racial profiling.”

He said the DOE will consider different ways to be more transparent about college applications and enrollment trends, including first-generation and legacy status.

Olatunde Johnson, a professor at Columbia Law School, said news week via telephone that the complaint was not surprising. However, he said it remains to be seen if there will be an influx of similar lawsuits targeting donor preferences and legacy.

“The Supreme Court opinion really opened the door for [the complaint] by abolishing affirmative action admissions based on race and ethnicity, thereby leaving those practices, such as inherited preferences and donor preferences, an easy target for groups concerned with admissions equity Johnson said.

She expects countless universities to revisit questions about legacy preferences, which some looked at even before the Court’s decision.

But past lessons learned by institutions in California and Michigan, where affirmative action has ceased to exist since the mid-2000s, show a “troubling” track record with regard to admissions of Black, Latino, Vietnamese and Filipino students into the most selective schools.

Other things can be done to improve diversity, he added, including looking at community college transfer policies; looking at the true weight of standardized tests on admissions. The same institutions must think about their role beyond admissions.

“I think this is true for public and private institutions: what is their role in your community and pipeline expansion, and who gets to go to school?” Johnson said. “And that’s thinking more creatively about what your role is in regards to K-12 education and making that a place of opportunity for all students.

“So I think if we want this to ultimately be about education issues and providing access in general, providing mobility in general, schools are going to have to think about more than just adjusting their admissions. They’re going to have to think more creatively about the answers”.

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