Yale Says It Too Is Under DOJ Scrutiny for Asian-American Bias

(Bloomberg) -- Yale University is under investigation by the U.S. government for discriminating against Asian-American applicants.

The probes by the Justice Department and Education Department signal that the government has expanded its scrutiny of admissions practices at elite universities. Harvard University was already under investigation.

“Yale does not discriminate in admissions against Asian Americans or any other racial or ethnic group,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in an email to the Yale community disclosing the investigation.

News of the probe comes three weeks before Harvard defends a civil lawsuit in Boston where it’s accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by using a subjective personal rating system of candidates. The Trump administration has weighed in on that case, filing court papers that lent support to the affirmative-action opponent bringing the suit.

Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to confirm the investigation, saying only that it “takes extremely seriously any potential violation of an individual’s constitutional rights.” An Education Department spokesman said the Office for Civil Rights is examining whether Yale treated applicants differently on the basis of race, in violation of federal prohibitions on discrimination by a program that receives federal funds.

The investigations and the Harvard lawsuit have cast new scrutiny on the way in which top colleges select students. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that race may be a factor in admissions, but opponents of affirmative action hope the high court will revisit its decision. In July, the Trump administration reversed Obama-era policies encouraging schools to consider race in admissions.

Yale, Harvard and other schools defend their practices, saying they consider more than just test scores in weighing applicants.

Entering Class

“Yale College could fill its entire entering class several times over with applicants who reach the 99th percentile in standardized testing and who have perfect high school grade point averages,” Salovey said. “We take into consideration a multitude of factors, including their academic achievement, interests, demonstrated leadership, background, success in taking maximum advantage of their secondary school and community resources, and the likelihood that they will contribute to the Yale community and the world.”

The Yale investigation follows a 2016 complaint by the group Asian American Coalition for Education, which cited bias at the New Haven, Connecticut-based school, as well as Brown and Dartmouth universities. The investigation proceeded against Yale, but not the other two schools, because there was an applicant who claimed discrimination in that case, according to the Education Department.

The investigation was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

Also on Wednesday, Harvard filed court papers in the civil suit opposing Justice Department arguments backing the plaintiffs, Students for Fair Admissions. The school said the government "relies almost exclusively" upon "inaccurate" allegations made by the group, and that the U.S. is ignoring Supreme Court rulings upholding consideration of race.

"The government’s argument highlights once again that its true objective here appears to be to make it legally impossible for universities to consider race in admissions," Harvard said, adding that both the government and plaintiff can’t show how the school can have a diverse student body while remaining blind to race.

Over the last 15 years, the number of Asian Americans in Yale’s freshman class has grown from fewer than 14 percent to 21.7 percent of the class of 2022, Salovey said. Asian Americans make up the second-largest group of students in the freshman class of almost 1,600, after white students at 53 percent, according to school data.

Only 6.3 percent of the 35,308 students who applied for seats in this year’s freshman class won admission.

Harvard admitted 4.59 percent of the applicants to its class of 2022. Women represented 50.1 percent of those accepted; African-Americans 15.5 percent; Latinos 12.2 percent; and Native Americans 2 percent, according to the Harvard Crimson. Asian-Americans made up a record 22.7 percent of the class.

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