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Yale University’s Admissions Process ‘Illegally Discriminates’ Against Whites and Asians, DOJ Argues


NEW HAVEN, CT - APRIL 15: New Haven, home to Yale University, boasts many cultural offerings that attract visitors to the city.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday accused Yale University of violating civil rights laws through the “oversized” use of race as a criteria for admissions to the elite institution.

Legally, race may be used as a “plus factor” or as a “subfactor” in narrow admissions decisions after an applicant’s other qualifications are reviewed and ranked. (One Supreme Court case called race a mere “factor of a factor of a factor” in admissions decisions.) The DOJ is accusing Yale of using race as a “predominant criteria” on the front end of its admissions decisions which advantaged African American and Hispanic applicants and disadvantaged white and Asian American applicants.

Yale’s own data indicate that it enrolls 5,964 undergraduate students. The total university enrollment is 54.6% white, 18.8% Asian, 7.4% Black or African American, and 12.6% Hispanic of any race.

The DOJ said in a press release that its findings were “the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by Asian American groups concerning Yale’s conduct.” Specifically, the DOJ alleges that “race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.”

The findings of the probe were outlined in a letter the DOJ sent to Yale on Thursday. The letter was signed by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s civil rights division.

“Yale’s discrimination is long-standing and ongoing,” Dreiband wrote in his opening paragraph. After explaining a lengthy data analysis, Drieband explained the crux of the DOJ’s complaint. Here are some of the DOJ’s concerns:

Yale grants substantial, and often determinative, preferences based on race to certain racially-favored applicants and relatively and significantly disfavors other applicants because of their race. Yale’s race discrimination imposes undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular Asian American and White applicants. For example, the likelihood of admission for Asian American and White applicants who have similar academic credentials is significantly lower than for African American and Hispanic applicants to Yale College. 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.

Further into the letter:

Our investigation indicates that Yale’s diversity goals appear to be vague, elusory, and amorphous. Yale’s use of race appears to be standardless, and Yale does virtually nothing to cabin, limit, or define its use of race during the Yale College admissions process.

[ . . . ]

Yale uses race at multiple points in its admissions process. Yale uses race when it initially rates applicants, when it again rates those previously rated applicants, and again when it considers applicants at subsequent stages of the admissions process. Yale discriminates based on race among comparable applicants to whom Yale’s own admissions staff gave identical ratings earlier in the admissions process. Yale’s use of race at multiple steps of its admissions process results in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant’s likelihood of admission.

The data suggested that Yale illegally used race as a “predominant criteria” in admissions decisions, according to the DOJ:

Yale’s admissions data and other information also show that the University is using race as more than just plus factors but rather as predominant criteria that in practice are determinative in many admissions decisions. Data also show that this determinative effect of race is multiplied for competitive applicants.

[ . . . ]

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. Yale’s use of race cannot satisfy the narrow tailoring requirement because Yale unduly burdens individuals who are not members of the favored racial and ethnic groups.

The letter goes on to say that “Yale’s race discrimination dates back more than four decades, to at least the 1970s.”

“There is no such thing as a nice form of race discrimination,” Dreiband said in a statement. “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.”

“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 DOJ’s press release said.

Dreiband’s letter asks Yale to comply with the DOJ’s demands to alter its admissions processes “by voluntary means.”

“To that end, Yale must 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 that its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law,” the letter says.  “Any such proposal should include an end date to Yale’s use of race.”

If Yale does not comply voluntarily, the letter threatens litigation.

Though Yale is a private institution, it must legally comply with federal civil rights laws because it receives taxpayer funding.

READ the full DOJ letter to Yale below:

DOJ Letter to Yale re: Race-Based Admissions by Law&Crime on Scribd

Legal citations and some internal punctuation have been omitted in some quotes.

[Photo by Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.