Jul 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Education Department opens investigation into Harvard admissions

A view of Harvard University on July 8, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into Harvard University over allegations of preferential treatment given to relatives of donors and alumni in its admissions process.

The big picture: The move comes after civil rights groups filed a complaint with the Education Department earlier this month, alleging Harvard’s legacy and donor-based admissions process violates federal law by systematically helping white applicants at the expense of their nonwhite counterparts.

  • The investigation also follows the Supreme Court's decision to strike down affirmative action last month.

By the numbers: Applicants tied to donors were nearly seven times more likely to get into Harvard between 2014 and 2019, according to the complaint.

  • Legacy applicants were nearly six times more likely to get in.
  • Nearly 70% of the college's donor-related and legacy applicants are white.

What they're saying: Lawyers for Boston nonprofit Civil Rights said Tuesday at a press conference that they have not heard from Harvard since filing the complaint on behalf of the Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England and the Greater Boston Latino Network.

  • Harvard spokesperson Nicole Rura told Axios in an email: "Following the Supreme Court’s recent decision, we are in the process of reviewing aspects of our admissions policies to assure compliance with the law and to carry forward Harvard’s longstanding commitment to welcoming students of extraordinary talent and promise who come from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences."
  • "Our review includes examination of a range of data and information, along with learnings from Harvard’s efforts over the past decade to strengthen our ability to attract and support a diverse intellectual community that is fundamental to our pursuit of academic excellence."

What's next: The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights will examine the issue of whether Harvard discriminates on the basis of race by using donor and legacy preferences in its undergraduate admissions process, thus violating Title VI, according to a letter from the department.

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