Affirmative Action for the Elite

Affirmative Action for the Elite July 18, 2023

The Ivy League and other elite universities waxed indignant that the Supreme Court overturned their affirmative action programs, moaning that members of racial minorities will no longer be able to get into schools like Harvard, but pledging their continuing commitment to diversity.

But these schools still have an affirmative action program that guarantees admission for the students they find most valuable.  This is for so-called ALDC students, the acronym referring to Athletes, Legacies (the children of alumni), Donors (children of parents who give money), and Children (of faculty and staff).

Only 5% of the vast number of applicants trying to get into Harvard are ALDC.  But they make up 30% of the students who are admitted.  The effect of these “legacy” admissions is to create a self-perpetuating elite, comprised of wealthy families who have leveraged their high-status education to create a hereditary aristocracy.  Thus, Harvard, like 37 other colleges, has more students from the top 1% of family incomes than from the bottom 60%.

So observes Evan Mandery, author of the book Poison Ivy:  How Elite Colleges Divide Us.  In his article for Politico entitled Elite Colleges Are About to Become the Villains, he writes about the schools’ hypocrisy in the racial affirmative action case and how new legal initiatives will soon threaten their affirmative action programs for the wealthy.

He observes that even with the schools’ affirmative action programs, which in effect set quotas for racial minorities (to the detriment of high-achieving Asians), the percentage of black students at the elite schools has hardly changed for 40 years.  Despite their rhetoric about the great educational value of diversity, the elite schools are far from being diverse.   Mandery recounts an exchange at the affirmative action case:

The contradictions between Harvard’s rhetoric and the reality of the makeup of its student body have already caused great damage and compromised Harvard’s legal position before the Supreme Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that Harvard could have achieved its current level of racial diversity by giving socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants half the boost it offers to so-called ALDC students. . . .

Gorsuch noted that ALDC preferences are race-neutral on their face, but “undoubtedly benefit white and wealthy applicants the most.” Indeed, about 68 percent of ALDC applicants to Harvard are white (just 6 percent are Black).

“Still,” Gorsuch wrote, “Harvard stands by them.”

But now, says Mandery, the legacy system–which is hard for anyone to defend–is being challenged:

The way that elite colleges have historically framed affirmative action is racist — that students of color can’t secure admission through an otherwise “objective” process without extra assistance. In truth, the process is anything but objective. Nearly all of the criteria elite colleges rely upon are merely proxies for wealth and all are designed to rationalize letting in the sort of student body that serves their institutional interest of satisfying and growing a wealthy alumni network.

Mandery cites a major lawsuit that is being filed that will challenge this overt favoritism on the basis of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as proposed legislation in Massachusetts that would fine institutions for practicing it.


Photo:  “Harvard Class of 2015 graduates at Harvard Yard‘s Sever Gate on the morning of the school’s 364th Commencement,” by Caroline Culler (User:Wgreaves) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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