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For most people, a ticket is a deterrent against illegal parking. But for a rich man, that ticket is merely a fee for a more convenient parking spot.
Like the elite university version of a parking ticket, a bill currently under consideration in the Massachusetts House will require institutions of higher education to pay a fee to continue considering legacy status or donor relationships in the admissions process. For Harvard, this fee would add up to a small 0.2 percent of its endowment, or about $100 million a year.
As a board, we remain resolute in our belief that legacy applicants should not get a leg up in the admissions process. We have applauded peer institutions that have chosen to do away with legacy admissions, and we eagerly await the practice’s demise at Harvard.
However, the Commonwealth’s legislature should not be delivering the death blow to legacy admissions, and certainly not with this bill.
The bill at hand does not outright ban legacy preference in admissions; it only fines schools that decide to continue with the practice. We cannot predict what price tag Harvard and other elite institutions will put on their admissions status quo, but we are unsettled by the idea that colleges can continue to perpetuate inequality for a fee, lining the state government’s treasury in the process. The nature of the fee ironically evokes the same abhorrent cash nexus present in legacy and donor admissions — that you can get into Harvard as long as you have enough money and connections.
We are also deeply perturbed by the proposal’s implementation. While we are not privy to the bill’s granular details, we can only imagine that schools will be forced to hand over their admissions data to the state in order to determine if they are in compliance. We are leery of handing over hordes of sensitive admissions data to a political body that may lack the organizational capacity and expertise to store, protect, and process it.
Instead, we’d rather the federal government take action.
In 2022 alone, more than half of Harvard’s research revenue was sponsored by the federal government, for a total of $642 million. The federal government should leverage the funding it provides institutions such as Harvard to universally mandate the abolition of legacy preferences in admissions. This withdrawal of support would provide much better incentive than Massachusetts’s percentage fee.
Despite our apprehension with this one bill, we do see a role for the Massachusetts government in encouraging Harvard to contribute to the social good of the state. We remain supportive of programs such as the Payment in Lieu of Taxes and continue to call on Harvard to fulfill its PILOT requests. Such a program, with full cooperation from relevant parties, could form the basis for how the state can motivate donations and community outreach from private institutions, especially as they expand across the river.
We are glad that the Massachusetts House is attempting to address the inequalities perpetuated by Harvard and its peers through legacy preferences in admissions. But we can’t support the approach. Taxing immorality is awfully close to profiting from it.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It 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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