Justice Department: Yale Illegally Discriminates Against Asians and Whites in Undergraduate Admissions

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 13 notified Yale University of its findings that Yale illegally discriminates against Asian American and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The findings are the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by Asian American groups concerning Yale’s conduct.

“There is no such thing as a nice form of race discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “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 agrees 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 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. For the great majority of applicants, Asian Americans and whites have only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials. Yale rejects scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit.

Although the Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funds may consider applicants’ race in certain limited circumstances as one of a number of factors, the Department of Justice found Yale’s use of race 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, and Yale racially balances its classes, according to the DOJ.

The department has demanded Yale agree not to use race or national origin in its upcoming 2020-2021 undergraduate admissions cycle, and, if Yale proposes to consider race or national origin in future admissions cycles, it must first submit to the Department of Justice a plan demonstrating its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law, including by identifying a date for the end of race discrimination.

“Commitment to Diversity”

Yale President Peter Salovey responded with the following statement to the Yale community:

“Earlier today, the Department of Justice informed Yale of its allegation that Yale’s undergraduate admissions practices discriminate on the basis of race, particularly in regard to Asian American and white applicants. As you may recall, the department began an investigation in 2018, when other universities were facing legal challenges that aimed to overturn Supreme Court precedent permitting the consideration of race in college admissions.

“Yale has been fully cooperating with the DOJ investigation. We have produced large quantities of documents and data, and we are continuing to do so. However, the DOJ concluded its investigation before reviewing and receiving all the information it has requested.

“The department’s allegation is baseless. 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, which would have shown that Yale’s practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.

“Yale College will not change its admissions processes in response to today’s letter because the DOJ 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. We will continue to look at what students have accomplished and hope to contribute to Yale and the world. We will continue to create a student body that is rich in a diverse range of ideas, expertise, and experiences. Such a student body greatly enhances students’ academic experiences and maximizes their future success. By bringing people of different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives together, we best prepare our students for a complex and dynamic world.

“Yale’s admissions practices help us realize our mission to improve the world today and for future generations. At this unique moment in our history, when so much attention properly is being paid to issues of race, Yale will not waver in its commitment to educating a student body whose diversity is a mark of its excellence.”

Support for Affirmative Action

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC are reviewing claims that Yale’s race-conscious policies discriminate against white and Asian American students and are considering legal action to help defend lawful admissions policies that ensure racial and ethnic student diversity, which benefits all students, if warranted. The two organizations issued the following statement:

“The U.S. Department of Justice issued a notice yesterday accusing Yale University of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. Despite low overall enrollment rates, the notice suggests that Black and Latinx students are admitted into Yale with lesser academic qualifications, but is bereft of the type of serious, comprehensive analysis that such investigations demand.

“Similar charges against Harvard were rejected by a federal court in 2018. This is the administration’s latest effort in an ongoing campaign to eliminate affirmative action in higher education.”

“The Justice Department’s conclusory and politically motivated accusations against Yale University are yet another wedge this administration has sought to drive between racially and ethnically diverse communities since day one of January 2017,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Education should be the great equalizer in our country, yet for centuries, access to high-quality education was systematically denied to millions of Black families. Yale’s admission policies, which account for various attributes and skills of students, are consistent with more than 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent and more importantly, should be consistent with the vision we all have for an educated and inclusive republic.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Advancing Justice | AAJC, on behalf of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation, currently represent a multiracial group of students of color in litigation supporting Harvard’s affirmative action policies. The civil rights groups have indicated that they are prepared to take on this latest challenge as well.

“We have supported affirmative action policies through multiple legal challenges over the years because the evidence is clear that affirmative action benefits all students, including Asian Americans,” said John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC. “The DOJ letter provides little data to support its assertions. We are fighting this false narrative in defense of Harvard University students as well.

“Where you start out in life shouldn’t determine where you end up. All students deserve the chance to share the whole story of who they are and why they should be accepted in their college applications. It’s unfair to force students to leave out vital parts of their story, including Asian American students who have struggled against stereotypes and grappled with racial discrimination that unfairly limit their opportunities in school and in the job market.”

“The majority of Asian Americans, African Americans and other people of color are in support of affirmative action and race conscious policies because they understand that we need to do more to increase diversity and inclusivity in higher education,” the organizations said. “More than 60 percent of Asian Americans support affirmative action, according to recent surveys. Considering race as a factor in admissions is a way to safeguard against the discrimination that women and people of color face in accessing equal opportunities in education, the workforce, and in life.”

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