The Real Affirmative Action: Research Finds 43% of Harvard Admissions Are White Athletes, Legacy, and Children of Donors

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A recently released set of research has exposed how various forms of affirmative action has benefitted a high percentage of white accepted applicants to Harvard University.

In a paper published Sept. 11, it was revealed that from 2009 and 2014, 43 percent of white students accepted at the Ivy League school were athletes, legacy students or children of faculty and donors (ALDC). Comparatively, only 16 percent of admitted students of Black, Asian American, or Hispanic origin fit that mold.

30 May 2019, US, Cambridge: Students follow Chancellor Merkel’s (CDU) speech at Harvard University. In an emotional speech at the US elite university Harvard, Chancellor Merkel promoted international cooperation and mutual respect – and clearly distinguished herself from US President Trump. Photo: Omar Rawlings/dpa (Photo by Omar Rawlings/picture alliance via Getty Images)

In addition to a high rate of white students admitted based on those favored categories, data from Harvard Crimson’s annual survey reveals 20 percent of athletes in the university’s 2019 graduating class are from homes with a more than $500,000 a year income.

The findings of the paper were based on data from a discrimination lawsuit filed by the Students for Fair Admissions, which claimed Harvard discriminated against Asian-American student applicants. Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono was the lead writer on the study and Slate reported he served as an expert witness on the case for the plaintiffs. SFFA’s goal in the case, in which a decision has yet to be handed down, is to remove the consideration of race in the admissions process. A disclosure in the paper noted, however, that SFFA did not fund the report.

“In a recent report issued by Harvard on race-neutral admissions (Trial Exhibit P316), a committee of Harvard deans provides various rationales for promoting ALDC preferences,” read the report written by three researchers from Duke University, the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma. “While we forego the details of these arguments, the main takeaway is that these preferences are thought to build a sense of community. Harvard’s argument is that students who are currently on campus benefit from being exposed to recruited athlete and legacy students, while the university benefits from increased engagement and donations from alumni.

“There are other incentives for Harvard to employ these preferences as well,” the report went on. “For example, donations by alumni — as opposed to parents of current students — are part of the formula used in U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings,10 providing an additional incentive to admit legacies whose parents will be more likely to donate if their child is admitted.”

The discoveries of the report, which has not been peer-reviewed and has yet to be published in a journal, further compounds the history of how affirmative action has benefitted not only white university students but white Americans in general. The Wagner Act and the G.I. Bill are just two 20th century examples of that.

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