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Harvard's controversy over donation-based favoritism in admissions

Harvard's controversy over donation-based favoritism in admissions

Posted June. 23, 2023 08:13,   

Updated June. 23, 2023 08:13


In the commencement season, there is a growing voice across Harvard University, one of the most renowned Ivy League members, advising its graduates not to boast about their alma mater unnecessarily. It was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday (local time) that the university warns against the H-Bombs, a phenomenon where Harvard students speak about their school too aloud. “Don't gratuitously drop the H-bomb," even Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana cautioned last year in an interview with the university’s newspaper.

With the U.S. Supreme Court about to rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action-based college admissions for minor racial groups, Harvard has presumably tried to erase the growing elite image attached to it over the course of the trials by giving a self-warning against the H-bombs, according to the newspaper.

Back in 2014, a non-profit group named “Students for Fair Admissions” filed a lawsuit against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, claiming that high-performing Asian applicants are put at a disadvantage by the schools’ affirmative action programs that favor African-American and Hispanic peers. The final court decision is scheduled to be made this month. Given that the majority of the current U.S. Supreme Court Justices lean toward the right, it is likely that their admission policies based on racial favoritism will be discarded.

One of the most disturbing issues revealed over the litigation process is that acceptance rates have turned out to be abnormally high among children of donors to Harvard, legacy students, and recruited athletes. According to an analysis done in 2019 by the National Bureau of Economic Research of legal documents submitted by Harvard to the court, the school’s average acceptance rate – the ratio of students who were accepted compared to applicants – was only 6 percent from 2009 to 2014 but those on the so-called dean’s preference list including children of donors recorded as high as 42.2 percent. Added to this, it was revealed that 43 percent of Harvard students of the Caucasian race were legacy students, athletes, and families of faculty members or donors.

In the recent two years, the acceptance rates at Harvard have declined to less than four percent – the lowest level ever. With the ever-frantic competition for college admissions sweeping the country, there is growing criticism about Harvard’s preferences and favoritism-driven admissions policies.

The New York Post also reported on Wednesday that there needs to be an end not only to affirmative action for minor racial groups but also to special legacy or donor considerations.

Hyoun-Soo Kim kimhs@donga.com