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Will Harvard End Legacy Admissions Preferences? President Claudine Gay Says ‘Everything is on the Table’

University President Claudine Gay assumed office two days after the Supreme Court effectively ended the use of race-based affirmative action in higher education.
University President Claudine Gay assumed office two days after the Supreme Court effectively ended the use of race-based affirmative action in higher education. By Julian J. Giordano
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

As Harvard scrutinizes its admissions practices amid calls to end the use of legacy and donor preferences, University President Claudine Gay said no policy is off limits.

“Everything is on the table,” Gay said in an interview on Wednesday, her first with The Crimson since the Supreme Court declared Harvard College’s race-conscious admissions policy unconstitutional in a landmark decision earlier this summer.

Gay’s remark was the clearest sign to date that Harvard might end the use of legacy and donor admissions preferences. Gay, however, did not directly answer a question about her personal stance on legacy preferences or whether the University will end the practice.

“I can’t, nor do I think it is actually productive to try to predict where that conversation is going to go,” she said. “But I think it’s a real signal of what a watershed moment we’re facing in higher ed, that we’re thinking and having conversations at this level of expansiveness.”

After the Court severely curtailed affirmative action in higher education in a June 29 ruling, two days before Gay assumed office, the University launched an internal review of its admissions practices.

As part of the ongoing review, Gay said University leaders intend to “think as holistically as possible” about how Harvard’s admissions system can “contribute to excellence, contribute to opportunity, and also allow us as an academic community to derive the full benefits that come from having a diverse group of learners.”

“It’s a wide-ranging conversation,” she added.

Legacy and donor preferences quickly emerged as the next battleground in the fight over the future of admissions in higher education. In July, the United States Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into whether Harvard’s use of legacy and donor preferences discriminates on the basis of race.

The Supreme Court ruling left Harvard and peer universities scrambling over the summer to change their admissions policies to adhere to the law, which Gay described as the first priority.

Gay said the Court’s decision required the University to make some “obvious tactical changes,” such as “eliminating and graying out checkboxes that used to be there” and ensuring that Harvard’s admissions processes are not “executed in an explicitly race-conscious way.”

In the past few months, Harvard has overhauled its College application essay prompts and instructed alumni interviewers to not take an applicant’s race or ethnicity into account during evaluations for the Class of 2028.

It was only afterwards, Gay said, that the University was able to focus on reevaluating its admissions practices in “this radically changed landscape.”

Those conversations continued when Harvard’s governing boards — the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers — met during the weekend after Gay’s inauguration, the first time since the Supreme Court’s ruling. Harvard College Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 was spotted leaving Loeb House — home to the governing boards — on Sunday, during the second day of meetings.

Gay said the meeting of the boards was an opportunity to inform members about steps the University has taken to comply with the Court’s ruling and about the “broader conversation that is now underway at Harvard and elsewhere.”

The conversations in Loeb House focused on “thinking beyond this admission cycle, but stepping back and thinking about the long term,” Gay said.

But Gay said she did not want to “offer any predictions about what the outcomes” of those conversations would be or how they might be implemented — “other than to assure you that when there actually is something to communicate, I will be communicating it.”

​​—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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