The Department of Justice has concluded that Yale University unlawfully discriminates against Asian and white applicants in its admissions process.
Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's civil rights division, wrote in a letter Thursday that a federal probe showed race was a "predominate criteria" that dictated many admissions decisions at Yale. The department warned that it could sue the university if it continues to use race in admissions for the upcoming year.
The government's inquiry, which began in 2018 and is based on Yale's own data, shows that Asian and white applicants are significantly less likely to be admitted than students from "preferred racial groups" with similar qualifications.
"Yale’s race discrimination imposes undue and unlawful penalties on racially-disfavored applicants, including in particular Asian American and White applicants," Dreiband wrote. "For the great majority of applicants, 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."
The Department also accused Yale of racially engineering its admitted classes, saying the racial composition of its student body has been "remarkably stable for approximately the last decade."
While the Supreme Court has allowed colleges and universities to consider race in admissions, its affirmative action precedents could be vulnerable to the newly entrenched conservative majority. Chief Justice John Roberts, now the bench's decisive vote in ideologically fraught cases, is generally suspicious of race-based classifications or remedies.
Yale's program is different from past cases, Dreiband said, because it does not just use race as part of a holistic review. Instead, racial preferences are "often determinative" of who gets in. Since the school receives federal funding, it is subject to Title VI, which bars discrimination in any program or activity that receives taxpayer dollars.
Dreiband said Yale must abandon its race-based policy for the coming academic year or submit race-conscious practices for the Justice Department's review.
"We are dismayed that the DOJ has made its determination before allowing Yale to provide all the information the Department has requested thus far," Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said in a statement. "Had the Department fully received and fairly weighed this information, it would have concluded that Yale’s practices absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent."
A similar dispute is underway in Boston, where a federal judge upheld Harvard's admissions practices against a challenge from Students for Fair Admissions, a conservative advocacy group, in 2019. The case is now pending before the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.