The Supreme Court recently overturned affirmative action for underrepresented minorities in college admissions. Those who saw it as a win for fairness cheered.
But now there's a similar challenge that may hit closer to home, and it will be interesting to see how many of those in the fairness crowd are still on board.
Three days after the court's decision in the cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions Inc. against the University of North Carolina and Harvard College, Boston-area advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Department of Education requesting an investigation into another controversial practice. They argued that Harvard's admissions policies discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Asian applicants in favor of less-qualified white candidates who have alumni and donor connections.
Ironically, their point is supported by data that came out of the lawsuit that dismantled affirmative action. Harvard had released years of records as part of the lawsuit that ended up before the Supreme Court. Researchers found that the data revealed that legacy students were eight times more likely to be admitted, and nearly 70% were white.
A study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 43% of white students admitted to Harvard were recruited athletes, legacy students, children of faculty and staff, or on the dean's interest list -- applicants whose parents or relatives have donated to Harvard.
Of the white students admitted from those four categories, 75% of them would have been rejected if they had been treated as white students without the special considerations, the study said.
Even after the court's decision, affirmative action for mostly white and wealthy students still stands. Yet everyone knows the students did nothing to earn this advantage.
Not a single other country in the world has legacy preferences in admissions.
America's longstanding tolerance for this particular unfairness begs the question: Why have conservative groups been unwilling to challenge legacy and donor preferences along with their fight against race-based preferences?
Unearned advantages -- bestowed by chance, at birth, mostly to white students -- have been accepted for generations, but a preference for Blacks and other underrepresented minorities for a few decades has provoked years of legal challenges.
We all know that giving the richest people in America affirmative action at the expense of others who are more qualified is ethically indefensible.
In the ongoing war over fairness in the admissions game, this battle has renewed life after the court's recent decision.
An Associated Press survey of the nation's most selective colleges last year found that legacy students in the freshman class ranged from 4% to 23%. This tidbit from the AP report was even more revealing: At four schools -- Notre Dame, the University of Southern California, Cornell and Dartmouth -- legacy students outnumbered Black students.
Who could have known.
On several occasions, white parents have lamented to me how difficult it will be for their child to gain admission at an elite school or graduate program "as a white male" or "as a white girl."
It's a common refrain during college application season. The unspoken part of that grievance is that their child is being disadvantaged by nonwhite students. But even with affirmative action, the percentage of Black students at Ivy League colleges has hovered around 6% for years.
Perhaps those parents were blaming the wrong group all along.
The defenses I've heard from those who have benefited from legacy admissions are, "I was still highly qualified for admission" and "I also worked hard."
Great. Let's see how you would fare without a thumb on the scale.
I say this as a parent of a child who is a legacy student at my own alma mater: It's time to get rid of the practice. It goes against the mission of higher education.
A conservative group found Asian plaintiffs to bring the case that overturned affirmative action. As my husband and I are Asian Americans, our children may ostensibly benefit from this decision -- statistically, lower percentages of Asians with qualifying scores and grades are accepted into elite universities. But I believe our children, and all students, will be worse off for having fewer classmates from diverse perspectives and backgrounds on their campuses. That's largely been the outcome at other places that have already gotten rid of considerations of race in admissions.
There are already several elite institutions that have decided that legacy status merits no weight in its admissions: MIT, CalTech, Amherst College, Johns Hopkins University, Pomona, the University of California system and the University of Texas.
To all the remaining universities that claim to value diversity, and to the people who have been clamoring for fairness: Here's your moment to prove it.