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Former University President Derek Bok Says Harvard Should End Legacy Admissions

Derek C. Bok, who served as University president from 1971 to 1991 and 2006 to 2007, visited Quincy House in Spring 2018. Bok said top American universities such as Harvard should do away with admissions preferences for legacy students in remarks to the Financial Times on Monday.
Derek C. Bok, who served as University president from 1971 to 1991 and 2006 to 2007, visited Quincy House in Spring 2018. Bok said top American universities such as Harvard should do away with admissions preferences for legacy students in remarks to the Financial Times on Monday. By Grace Z. Li
By Elyse C. Goncalves and Matan H. Josephy, Crimson Staff Writers

Former Harvard President Derek C. Bok said top American universities like Harvard should end legacy admissions preferences in remarks to the Financial Times on Monday.

Bok, who led Harvard from 1971 to 1991 and again as an interim president from 2006 to 2007, is the second former University president to publicly oppose legacy admissions. He follows former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers, who published an op-ed in the Washington Post last summer calling for the end of legacy preferences.

Bok’s comments came one day before the publication of his latest book, “Attacking the Elites,” in which he publicly opposed admissions practices that provide advantages to donor and legacy families. Bok previously opposed legacy preferences in a January op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education adapted from his book, writing that “preferences given to legacies or applicants whose parents are potential donors are especially suspect.”

Bok declined to provide additional comment, writing in an emailed statement that “I make a practice of never commenting on current issues at Harvard.”

Harvard’s admissions preferences for children of donors and alumni have long been the subject of criticism, including from members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and U.S. President Joe Biden. Legacy admissions have also attracted scrutiny from the Massachusetts state legislature.

In July, less than one month after the Supreme Court struck down Harvard’s use of race-conscious admissions practices, the U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into donor and alumni admissions preferences at the University after a nonprofit legal group filed a federal complaint. The investigation has not yet come to any conclusions.

In a December interview, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said the decision to strike down legacy preference would come from the University’s administrative leadership, not the admissions office.

While Harvard has not indicated whether it plans to remove legacy preferences from admissions, former Harvard President Claudine Gay told The Crimson in an October interview that “everything is on the table.” Less than two weeks later, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Hopi E. Hoekstra said reexamining legacy admissions practices is among several possibilities “under consideration” by the University.

Bok said he has “not talked with Harvard officials about the current review.”

A College spokesperson declined to comment.

—Staff writer Elyse C. Goncalves can be reached at elyse.goncalves@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @e1ysegoncalves or on Threads @elyse.goncalves.

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached at matan.josephy@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

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