Wealthy Applicants Should Not Get a Leg Up in Admissions

Fitzsimmons Courthouse
Harvard's long-serving Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 (far right) exits the courthouse during the admissions trial.

Last week, federal court proceedings in the Students for Fair Admissions-led lawsuit against Harvard revealed that the College has an entrenched preference for the children of wealthy donors. We do not find these new developments particularly surprising. This preference, perhaps designed to help keep Harvard financially afloat, has long been an open secret. However, as unsurprising as these revelations are, we still find them unacceptable.

While we are hardly shocked by the confirmation that Harvard tips the scales of its admissions in favor of the children of prolific donors, we are still discomfited by the incongruity of this potential quid-pro quo with the mission of this college — for the same reason we have many times called for the elimination of legacy preference in the College’s admissions. Indeed, Harvard’s preference for both legacy students and children of wealthy donors has thrown the College’s purportedly holistic admissions standards into serious question, and stands out as deeply incompatible with its mission.

The College states that its mission to seek out and build promising students across the globe who show the promise and skill to become leaders in our future society. This message has been repeated numerous times by deans, presidents, and the very admissions officers who admitted us. Yet we are now faced more bluntly than ever with the reality that some of our peers have gotten here — at least, in no small part — because of their families’ monetary clout. Harvard’s unabashed preference for these applicants undercuts its claim to educate the future leaders of the world.

Moreover, we are disturbed by the way SFFA has attempted to equivocate affirmative action and preference for the children of wealthy donors. It is incredibly reductive to analogize these two admissions preferences. Unlike a preference for the children of wealthy donors, affirmative action is meant to redress, in small part, the inequities that students coming from certain backgrounds face. Affirmative action — especially at an institution like Harvard — can offer disadvantaged students the ability to excel.


Admitting students from wealthy and well-connected backgrounds without a guarantee of the same rigorous process that applies to the rest of the class diminishes the legitimacy of Harvard’s admissions process. SFFA has seized upon this as a way to discredit affirmative action, but this is a slippery slope. By doing so, they conflate these two very different admissions practices. We hope that the courts as well as SFFA come to see the error in their reasoning and the nuances between these two controversial practices. Indeed, one is far more equitable than the other.

This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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