Justice Department Sues Yale University for Alleged Racial Discrimination in Admissions

October 9, 2020 Updated: October 9, 2020

The Department of Justice is suing Yale University over alleged discrimination against white and Asian-American applicants in the Ivy League school’s admissions process.

The lawsuit comes after a two-year review of Yale’s undergraduate admissions practices determined that the university has a “long-standing and ongoing” bias against “racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular Asian-American and White applicants” who are “domestic non-transfer” students. In an August letter (pdf), the DOJ demanded Yale to submit proposed changes in undergraduate admissions before Sept. 15, or expect a lawsuit.

The DOJ filed that lawsuit (pdf) Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, alleging that Yale violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally sponsored programs. Yale, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the federal government, including $630 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, is subjected to Title VI regulations.

It also alleges that Yale engages in “racial balancing” by keeping the annual percentage of admitted African American applicants to within one percentage point of the previous year’s class, and that it conducts similar balancing for Asian-American applicants. The DOJ said such policy only promotes stereotypes that are harmful to racial minority groups.

“Because Yale claims that its race discrimination is necessary to admit sufficient numbers of racially-favored applicants, mostly Black and Hispanic applicants, Yale signals that racially-favored applicants cannot compete against Asian and White applicants,” the lawsuit read. “This kind of race discrimination relies upon and reinforces damaging race-based stereotypes.”

For the great majority of applicants, according to DOJ, Asian Americans and Whites have only one-eighth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.

In a Thursday email to the campus community, Yale President Peter Salovey dismissed the allegations as false, pledging not to change the university’s admissions practices because of the federal lawsuit.

“Yale does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity,” wrote Salovey, reported student newspaper Yale Daily News. “Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful. Yale’s admissions policies will not change as a result of the filing of this baseless lawsuit. We look forward to defending these policies in court.”

“Our admissions process considers as many aspects as possible of an applicant’s life experiences and accomplishments,” Salovey continued, adding that race is but just one element in the examination of an application file, which also takes into account many other factors such as test scores, grades, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and military service. “No single element is considered independently of the whole application,” he said.