Justice Department Finds Yale University Illegally Discriminated Against Asian American and White Applicants

Two years after opening an investigation into Yale University’s use of race in admissions, the Justice Department is demanding that the school agree not to use race or national origin in its upcoming 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
Beth J. Harpaz/AP

The Department of Justice accused Yale University of violating federal civil rights law by illegally discriminating against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process.

Those are the findings of a two-year investigation conducted in response to a complaint by a coalition of Asian American groups. The Justice Department notified university officials in a letter on Thursday.

“The Department of Justice found Yale discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year,” the department said in a release.

It went on to say that “for the great majority of applicants,” Asian American and white prospective students have 1/10 to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.

In a statement provided to NPR, a Yale spokesperson said that the university “categorically denies this allegation.”

“At Yale, we look at the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants,” the statement said. “We take into consideration a multitude of factors, including their academic achievement, interests, demonstrated leadership, background, success in taking maximum advantage of their secondary school and community resources, and the likelihood that they will contribute to the Yale community and the world.”

The spokesperson also suggested that the Justice Department had not fully taken into account the information and data that university officials were providing.

“We are dismayed that the DOJ has made its determination before allowing Yale to provide all the information the Department has requested thus far,” she said. “Had the Department fully received and fairly weighed this information, it would have concluded that Yale’s practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

The Justice Department acknowledged that the Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funds can consider applicants’ race in certain circumstances, as one of many factors. But it described Yale’s use of race as “anything but limited.”

The Justice Department is alleging that Yale uses race at multiple steps of its admissions process, which multiplies the effect of race on an applicant’s chances of getting in. It also said the school racially balances its classes.

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SOURCE: NPR, Rachel Treisman and Elisa Nadworny