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Legacy admissions to Harvard now face scrutiny

Three Boston-area groups have challenged legacy admissions at Harvard University with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

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Harvard University Widener Library. In 2017 Harvard started black-only college graduations. Do universities even value freedom of speech anymore?

Legacy admissions – admitting students to elite schools solely because their parents once attended – will now face an administrative challenge. Four days after the ruling disallowing affirmative action in college admissions, a civil rights group is now challenging Harvard precisely to challenge the fairness of legacy admissions.

The legacy admissions riddle

Three Boston-area Black and Latino civil rights groups filed the civil rights complaint, according to The New York Times. (Many other news organs, including The Hill, filed similar stories.)

The groups (Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England, and Greater Boston Latino Network) filed their complaint, not in District Court, but with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. They seek a review of legacy admissions with a view to declaring them illegal. According to the Times, President Biden has already said he would task the Department to review legacy admissions, along with “other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

The main objection to legacy admissions seems to be that the overwhelming majority of “legacies” are white. In fact, NBC News carried a study showing the legacy advantage. In fact, NBC asserted that forty-three percent of white students at Harvard are “legacies,athletes, or faculty or staff relatives.

One user shared some relevant data supporting that assertion:


But not all “legacies” are white. Candace Owens pointed out that the two daughters of Barack Obama would benefit from his status as an alumnus of Harvard Law School.

Not all elite schools still practice legacy admissions. The Times names three that have stopped the practice: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Johns Hopkins University, and Amherst. Amherst in particular saw legacy enrollment cut in half this fall when they abolished the practice.

Where sympathies lie

As one might expect, leftist politicians (in addition to President Biden) hailed the complaint. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said this, on the day the affirmative action decision came down:

The Times quoted Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) as also calling for an end to the practice:

One of the things that Harvard could do to make that even better is to eliminate any legacy programs where they have preferential treatment for legacy kids.

CNAV called for an end to legacy admissions in its discussion of the Harvard/University of North Carolina admissions case. We said then, and say now, that the practice violates the concept of merit.


The usual grounds for the practice is to increase alumni donations. That also applies to the seeking-out of student athletes.

About the image

Widener Library” by EllenSeptember is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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