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Legacy preference at Harvard is now challenged by civil rights activists

The latest decision rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court on Affirmative Action triggered a social uproar and indignation. Liberals and civil rights activists accused the U.S. Supreme Court of bringing America back to the separate-but-equal doctrine.

A social doctrine that put Blacks at a significant disadvantage in their pursuit of education and socioeconomic mobility. Affirmative Action enabled academic institutions to positively discriminate in the selection process of their incoming students. It authorized admission committees to base their selection methods on abstract characteristics such as skin color, gender, and religious beliefs rather than test scores and other objective metrics.

More importantly, what Affirmative Action authorized was to prioritize students from underrepresented groups over students from majority groups. In other words, Affirmative Action authorized college admissions committees to select their students based on abstract characteristics and to prioritize these characteristics over objective metrics in their selection process.

The overturn of positive discrimination suggests that college admission committees are now compelled to use other metrics than skin color, gender, and religious beliefs, which are empirically unreliable, to select their incoming students.

Civil rights activists and liberals argued that the overturn of Affirmative Action would make it harder for Blacks and other minority groups to attend institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or the University of Pennsylvania. They asserted that Blacks and other underrepresented groups have a hard time being selected on a merit-based process. This argument suggests then that Blacks and underrepresented groups are intellectually inferior to Whites. Isn’t it then fair to say that this argument has a eugenic undertone?

The overturn of Affirmative Action triggered its supporters to challenge the legacy-preference method, a selection method that prestigious academic institutions, such as the aforementioned ones, use for selecting their incoming students. It is a selection method that factors familial relationships to alumni of that institution in the selection process.

It is as controversial as Affirmative Action because it encourages nepotism. This selection gives priority to incoming students of wealthy and affluent families that wield considerable influence in their community. The key feature that civil rights activists argue about is that these affluent families are White and financially resourceful. Thus, they have a socioeconomic advantage that underrepresented groups don’t have, notably Blacks. Consequently, it is unfair to underrepresented groups, according to civil rights activists.

What’s interesting about the legacy-preference method is the relationship between someone’s familial legacy and his abilities. Students who do come from affluent families do have a socioeconomic advantage because they come from families that prioritize certain societal customs, such as grooming their kids intellectually and making them value education as an important stepping stone to be successful in life.

However, the legacy-preference method is not necessarily objective because some of the incoming students from affluent families do not necessarily have the intellectual acumen to attend these prestigious institutions, and yet, they are still selected on that method. That could be unfair to the potential incoming students whose test scores exceeded standards but who do not come from an affluent family. In that respect, civil rights activists do have a point that can’t be ignored.

The merit-based process would then suggests that test score should be prioritized over skin color, gender, religious beliefs, and familial legacy. Incoming students at Harvard shall be selected based on their skills, academic performances, and their involvement in extracurricular activities. Nothing more.


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