Princeton Fights to Shield Its Admissions Data

WASHINGTON (CN) – Having prevailed against claims that it discriminated against Asian applicants, Princeton University now wants a federal judge to keep a lid on the admissions materials it provided for regulators.

Princeton says in a March 17 complaint that its confidential records are at risk of disclosure because the Department of Education has been sued in Washington by a group called Students for Fair Admissions Inc.

Demanding relief under the Freedom of Information Act, the students have requested all records on the investigation into Princeton conducted by the department’s Office of Civil Rights.

As laid out in a 2015 letter, that OCR investigation concerned claims that the New Jersey-based Ivy discriminated against Asian applicants in undergraduate admissions.

The office said it found insufficient evidence to substantiate such claims, prompting the student group to demand its investigation documents under FOIA.

Princeton notes that it promptly filed objections to keep the department from releasing certain materials, but that an OCR representative informed it earlier this month that the exemption it cited “does not apply to any of the materials that the university has produced to OCR” for the discrimination investigation.

Demanding an injunction, Princeton’s complaint says OCR “provided no substantive reasons for this determination.”

“For instance, it did not explain what factors were considered, did not dispute the University’s position regarding the confidentiality of the information at issue, nor did it include any findings at all regarding the likely harm to the university from disclosure,” the 17-page complaint states.

Princeton notes that it has learned that regulators plan to redact “substantial but not all categories of applicant-specific information.”

“On information and belief, the department and OCR have not obtained the prior written consent of the individuals to whom the applicant documents and information pertain to release any applicant-specific information,” the complaint continues.

Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the university alleges one count of violation of Administrative Procedure Act.

“The public interest is served by ensuring that the university, and other similarly situated highly competitive universities that are involved in similar investigations, are not subject to having their confidential admissions information and materials disclosed, and are able to cooperate fully with OCR investigations without fear of such disclosure,” the complaint states.

Princeton is represented by Lindsay Harrison of Jenner Block. Neither that attorney nor the Department of Education’s OCR have returned a requests seeking comment. 

According to a diversity chart on Princeton’s admissions page, 20 percent of the class of 2020 is Asian and another 12 percent is “international.”

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