Court Battles

Justice Dept. accuses Yale of discriminating against white and Asian applicants

Yale University | Michael Marsland

The Trump administration on Thursday accused Yale University of illegally discriminating against white and Asian American applicants and threatened to file a civil rights lawsuit against the school if it refused to change its admissions practices.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to the university’s attorneys stating that “Yale’s oversized use of race favors some applicants because of their race and correspondingly disfavors other applicants because of their race, with most Asian American and White applicants unduly bearing the brunt of the preferences Yale grants to its racially-preferred applicants.”

“Yale grants racial and national origin preferences in favor of African American, Hispanic, and certain other applicants and disfavors most Asian American and White applicants,” wrote Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

Yale denied the allegations and said it would refuse to alter its admissions process, escalating the likelihood of a high-profile court battle.

“Given our commitment to complying with federal law, we are dismayed that the DOJ has made its determination before allowing Yale to provide all the information the Department has requested thus far,” Karen Peart, a spokeswoman for the university, said in an emailed statement.

“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,” she added.

The Trump administration opened an investigation into the school two years ago after receiving a complaint from an Asian American civil rights activist.

The DOJ said on Thursday that the investigation had found Yale used race throughout multiple stages of its admissions process and that it discriminated against Asian American and white applicants in favor of Black and Hispanic applicants. The department alleged that the practice violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.
“For the great majority of applicants, Asian American and White applicants have only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials,” the DOJ wrote in its letter.
Many conservatives have criticized academic institutions’ affirmative action policies aimed at increasing student diversity and elevating applicants who have long been under-represented at elite institutions.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that universities may use race as a factor in their admissions process as long as it’s not the predominant reason to grant or deny admission and that the process is used to further diversity where race-neutral admissions policies have failed.
The DOJ said on Thursday that Yale has been defying the high court’s narrowly-tailored standard for applying using race in its admissions process and that its diversity goals are “vague.”
Yale denied any wrongdoing on Thursday, insisting that it evaluates “the whole person” when selecting applicants and suggested it was ready to fight any legal action from the Trump administration.
“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,” Peart said in her statement. “We are proud of Yale’s admissions practices, and we will not change them on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation.”
Updated 5:43 p.m.

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