The Department of Justice decided yesterday that Yale University illegally discriminates against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process.
The findings are the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by more than 130 Asian American groups concerning Yale’s biased conduct.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division stated in a DOJ press release:
"There is no such thing as a nice form of race discrimination. Unlawfully dividing Americans into racial and ethnic blocs fosters stereotypes, bitterness, and division. It is past time for American institutions to recognize that all people should be treated with decency and respect and without unlawful regard to the color of their skin. In 1890, Frederick Douglass explained that the ‘business of government is to hold its broad shield over all and to see that every American citizen is alike and equally protected in his civil and personal rights.’ The Department of Justice agrees and will continue to fight for the civil rights of all people throughout our nation."
As a condition of receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, Yale expressly agreed to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a cornerstone civil-rights law that "prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance."
The DOJ found that 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.
For the majority of applicants, Asian Americans and whites have only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of acceptance as their African American counterparts with comparable academic credentials, the Department cited. Yale rejects scores of the former each year based on race.
Although the Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funding may consider applicants’ race in "certain limited circumstances" as one of numerous factors, the DOJ determined that Yale’s use of race in its decision making is "anything but limited."
Yale uses race at multiple steps of its admissions process, resulting in "a multiplied effect of race" on an applicant’s likelihood of admission. Yale also racially balances its classes, the Department stated.
The DOJ has demanded Yale to agree not to use race or national origin in its upcoming 2020 through 2021 undergraduate admissions cycle. If Yale proposes to consider race or national origin in future rotations, it must first submit to the DOJ a plan demonstrating its proposal is "narrowly tailored" as required by law and identifying a date for the "end of race discrimination."
The university has vehemently denied the allegations. The Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan pushed back on the DOJ's findings, retorting that Yale will not change its admissions practices, Yale's independent student newspaper reported.
"We are proud of Yale’s admissions practices, and we will not change them on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation," Quinlan said in a press statement to Yale Daily News.
Quinlan claimed that Yale has complied fully with the DOJ’s investigation and "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.”
University President Peter Salovey echoed Quinlan in a community-wide email and statement branding the face of Yale's official website, titled "Yale’s Steadfast Commitment to Diversity." He added that the DOJ completed its inquiry without receiving all of the documents and data Yale had produced.
"The department’s allegation is baseless," Salovey stated. "Given our university’s commitment to complying with federal law, I am dismayed that the DOJ inexplicably rushed to conclude its investigation without conducting a fully informed analysis..."
Salovey reaffirmed that the university has no plans to adapt their policies in accordance with the DOJ’s demands, because the Department is "seeking to impose a standard that is inconsistent with existing law."
"We will continue to look at the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants," Salovey wrote. "...We will continue to create a student body that is rich in a diverse range of ideas, expertise and experiences."
Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, told Yale Daily News that he "applauded" the DOJ for "suspending racial preferences at Yale."
"Our nation’s civil rights laws and Constitution must be interpreted to forbid the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions," Blum stated. "In our multi-racial and multi-ethnic nation, the admissions’ bar cannot be raised for some races and ethnicities, and lowered for others."
In a 2014 brief against Harvard College, SFA argued that school officials "have employed and are employing racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures in administering the undergraduate admissions program" against Asian American applicants in violation of the same civil rights act that Yale has allegedly disregarded. A federal judge in Massachusetts had rejected SFA's claims in October 2019, ruling that Harvard’s admissions process met constitutional standards for consideration of race.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which ruled against a 35-year-old white man in 1978, was the first Supreme Court case to uphold affirmative action.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) assistant counsel to Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Cara McClellan, asserts that the DOJ’s letter lacks legal grounding to force Yale into compliance.
McClellan told Yale Daily News that while the department can threaten the university with litigation, its case would lack judicial precedent.
In the past 20 years, she sourced, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of affirmative action four times, allowing institutions to narrowly consider race as part of a holistic admissions process.
The letter is part of "a larger effort to dismantle affirmative action and to take opportunities away from hard-working Black and Latinx students," McClellan stated.
"At this point," she added, "we have very little faith that [the Trump] administration cares about racial justice as opposed to the dismantling of policies that are designed to ensure equity."
The Yale admissions office reported that over 49% of matriculants identified as white, almost 26% identified as Asian Americans, and almost 12% identified as African American. Based on self-reported information from the class profile of 2023, a total of 51% of first-year US citizens identified as members of a minority group.
The original 2016 complaint by the Asian American Coalition for Education also levelled allegations against Brown University and Dartmouth College, claiming that the Ivy League universities deliberately cap the number of Asian American students admitted each year. The DOJ declined to pursue investigations into Dartmouth and Brown, citing a lack of evidence.