New Administration Won’t Pursue Yale on Admissions Bias

It isn’t a whole new world in 2021, but Yale University learned Wednesday that it will no longer face discriminating charges from the U.S. Department of Justice. 

This photo of Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, was taken by Sidney L. Smith in 1882. It was gifted by Olin Dows to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery. (Image via Courthouse News courtesy of the Smithsonian)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) — Just four months after it accused Yale of discriminating against white and Asian students seeking enrollment in its undergraduate programs, the Justice Department quietly abandoned the case Wednesday.

DOJ attorney Jeffrey Morrison, from the Civil Rights Division, signed the three-sentence notice of voluntary dismissal, which comes just two weeks into the Biden presidency.

A spokesperson for Yale said Wednesday the university is “gratified” that the Justice Department has dropped both the federal complaint in Connecticut and its notice of violation of Title VI of Civil Rights Act. 

“The Justice Department’s decision in August 2020 to issue the notice of violation unexpectedly and precipitously cut off an exchange of information that Yale looks forward to resuming,” the Yale representative wrote. “Our admissions process has allowed Yale College to assemble an unparalleled student body, which is distinguished by its academic excellence and diversity.” 

Last year with President Donald Trump in office, federal prosecutors notified the Ivy League institution in a letter in August 2020 that it had looked into a complaint by Asian American organizations and determined that Yale discriminated on the basis of race, color or national origin.

The lawsuit in New Haven came two months later, alleging that 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. 

Because millions of federal tax dollars are conditioned on Yale’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prosecutors said Yale could not discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. 

But the lawsuit was always a longshot: 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. 

Trump’s Justice Department long chafed against that backdrop, however, in a bid to appease its base of white males. In 2018 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew two dozen Justice Department guidance documents, including several Obama administration statements, regarding the use of race as a factor in college admissions. 

One of the rescinded documents was a May 6, 2014, joint letter from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education affirming that the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action did not disturb existing law on affirmative action “absent any restrictions in state law.” 

A judge must still sign off on the Justice Department’s voluntary dismissal of the Yale complaint.  

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