Department of Justice Sues Yale for Racial Discrimination in Admissions

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.


The Department of Justice (DoJ) has officially sued Yale University, claiming that the school violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against white and Asian applicants in its undergraduate admissions, according to a DoJ press release issued yesterday.

As per the release, 

The complaint alleges that Yale discriminated against applicants to Yale College on the grounds of race and national origin, and that Yale’s discrimination imposes undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular most Asian and White applicants.

The complaint also alleges that Yale injures applicants and students because Yale’s race discrimination relies upon and reinforces damaging race-based stereotypes, including in particular such stereotypes against Yale’s racially-favored applicants. And, the complaint alleges that Yale engages in racial balancing by, among other things, keeping the annual percentage of African-American admitted applicants to within one percentage point of the previous year’s admitted class as reflected in U.S. Department of Education data. The complaint alleges similar racial balancing about Asian-American applicants.

This lawsuit follows an August 13 letter sent from Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division, to an attorney representing Yale, in which he outlines the findings of the Department’s investigation into Yale College’s current and past admissions policies. For my full breakdown of this letter, click here

Suffice it to say for now that the DoJ accused Yale of “[granting] 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.” 

The Department claimed that Yale has engaged in such practices for nearly 40 years, and it gave the school until August 27 to cease using race or national origin as a factor in admissions, or to submit a proposal for its doing so if it chose to continue. It also threatened a lawsuit if insufficient action was taken.

Yale President Peter Salovey denied the accusations via an email to the Yale community, claiming that the DoJ reached its conclusions before reviewing all of the requested data. He plainly wrote, “Yale College will not change its admissions processes in response to today’s letter…”

It appears that President Salovey was true to his word, earning his school a federal lawsuit. Indeed, the DoJ’s release states

Yale refused to agree to the Department of Justice’s demand that Yale refrain from using race or national origin in its current 2020-2021 undergraduate admissions cycle. Yale also failed or refused ever to end its use of race in admissions, and Yale declined even to propose any changes to its pervasive use of race. The department therefore notified Yale that efforts at voluntary compliance had failed and filed suit.

The DoJ’s lawsuit is the latest in the Trump administration’s broader effort to hold America’s colleges and universities accountable for their use of race in admissions. See last month’s announcement by the Department of Education (ED) of its investigation into Princeton after its president admitted to a history of “systemic racism.” Furthermore, the Justice Department has joined the National Association of Scholars in supporting Students for Fair Admissions in its appeal against Harvard’s racially discriminatory admissions practices.

NAS will continue to track these cases as they progress.


Image: Historical building and Yale university campus by f11photo, Adobe Stock Standard License.

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