NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) — The Department of Justice sued Yale University in a federal lawsuit Thursday, claiming it discriminates against Asians and whites in the undergraduate admissions process.
“For at least 50 years, Defendant Yale University (Yale) has intentionally subjected applicants to Yale College to discrimination on the grounds of race and national origin,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit follows a two-year investigation that found 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.
“Yale vaguely asserts a purported compelling interest in the educational benefits of diversity, without sufficiently defining its diversity goals, without articulating any standards to measure achievements of its diversity goals, and without indicating what actions or results would satisfy its diversity goals,” the complaint states.
Yale University President Peter Salovey said the university does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity.
“Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful,” Salovey said in a statement. “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.”
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong also defended the school.
“This lawsuit is as baseless as it is offensive, and every aspect of it demonstrates complete and utter overreach,” Tong, a Democrat and child of Chinese immigrants, said in a statement Thursday. “My office is exploring all legal avenues to support Yale University and its students. The Department of Justice action deviates starkly from decades of well-established legal precedent and threatens to disrupt admissions practices at hundreds of universities nationwide.”
Lawyers for the government said they offered Yale an opportunity for voluntary compliance without litigation. However, “Yale declined the United States’ offer,” the complaint states. “The United States notified Yale of its determination that efforts to obtain voluntary compliance were unsuccessful.”
In August, when it released the findings of an investigation prompted by a complaint by Asian American organizations, the Justice Department demanded that Yale immediately stop and agree not to use race or national origin in the upcoming admissions process. Officials refused.
The U.S. Supreme Court has routinely upheld affirmative action for universities, allowing them to consider race as one of several factors in determining who is accepted into the school.
But Thursday’s complaint contends that the Ivy League university uses race at multiple steps of its admissions process, resulting in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant’s likelihood of admission.
“Yale subjects Yale College applicants to discrimination on the ground of race at virtually every step of its admissions process,” the complaint states.
For example, Yale uses race when it initially rates applicants and does it again at two other steps during the admissions process.
This discrimination has been going on for at least 50 years, according to the complaint.
Yale also racially balances its classes, the August investigation found.
As a condition of receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, the DOJ said Yale “expressly agrees” to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.
Salovey said the university follows Supreme Court precedent and looks at the whole student in the admissions process.
“Our admissions process considers as many aspects as possible of an applicant’s life experiences and accomplishments,” Salovey said. “That does include race and ethnicity, but only as one element in a multi-stage examination of the entire application file, which takes into account test scores, grades, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, military service, and many other factors.”
Salovey added: “No single element is considered independently of the whole application. We take this approach because we know that exposure to a diverse student body improves students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills and prepares them to thrive in a complex, dynamic world.”