Dept. of Education investigates Harvard legacy admissions for alleged civil rights violations

The Office for Civil Rights informed attorney Michael Kippins on July 24 that an investigation into Harvard's legacy admissions standards would commence after his initial complaint was filed earlier in the month.

Kippins: 'It is imperative that the federal government act now to eliminate this unfair barrier that systematically disadvantages students of color.'

The Department of Education has launched an investigation into Harvard University’s legacy admissions practices for potential violations of federal civil rights law.

On July 24, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued a letter to attorney Michael Kippins communicating that the department would be reviewing whether Harvard’s use of legacy admissions discriminates against minority students on the basis of race.

[RELATED: Proposed MA law targets legacy admissions]

Days after the Supreme Court struck down Harvard’s use of race-based, affirmative action admissions practices on June 29, Kippins filed a federal civil rights complaint against the university’s legacy admissions standards. An attorney for the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights group, Kippins accused Harvard of breaching Title VI of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits “discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 

“Harvard’s practice of giving a leg-up to the children of wealthy donors and alumni – who have done nothing to deserve it – must end,” Kippins said after filing the complaint. “This preferential treatment overwhelmingly goes to white applicants and harms efforts to diversify. Particularly in light of last week’s decision from the Supreme Court, it is imperative that the federal government act now to eliminate this unfair barrier that systematically disadvantages students of color.”

Kippins filed the complaint in early July on behalf of three Boston-area minority groups: the Chica Project, the African Community Economic Development of New England, and the Greater Boston Latino Network.

Established in the 1960s, the Lawyers for Civil Rights envision a ”world free of racism, with justice, dignity, and lived equality for all.” A self-identified “anti-racist organization,” the group ”works with communities of color and immigrants to fight discrimination and foster equity through creative and courageous legal advocacy, education, and economic empowerment.”

Speaking publicly days after the Harvard investigation announcement, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told the Boston Herald that “as a country, we really need to revisit all of our practices for college admissions.”

A strong supporter of affirmative action, Cardona has celebrated colleges discontinuing the use of legacy admissions. At an appearance at Wesleyan University in his home state of Connecticut on July 29, he told students, “This affirmative action decision by the Supreme Court, which I believe is wrong, is giving us an opportunity to really be innovative.”

Congressional Democrats immediately responded to the Harvard investigation by reintroducing the Fair College Admissions for Students Act to essentially outlaw legacy admissions, with the exceptions of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and “other minority-serving institutions.” 

[RELATED: Colorado bans legacy admissions at public schools to combat ‘systemic inequity’]

 “Legacy admissions disproportionately benefit wealthy, white, and connected students and have racist, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant roots,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman, who helped reintroduce the bill.

”Children of donors and alumni may be excellent students and well-qualified, but they are the last people who should get an additional leg up in the complicated and competitive college admissions process,” added Senator Jeff Merkley.

Campus Reform has contacted all relevant parties for comment and will update this story accordingly.