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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Explained: Why the US Justice Department is threatening Yale University with a lawsuit

The department has threatened to file a lawsuit against the university if “remedial” measures are not taken and has demanded that the university stop using race or national origin for its upcoming admissions.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 16, 2020 4:08:33 pm
yale university lawsuit, US lawsuit against yale university, yale university admission controversy, indian express explainedThe Justice Department claims that Yale University has illegally discriminated against Asian Americans and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo)

An investigation led by the US Justice Department has found that the Ivy League Yale University is illegally discriminating against Asian Americans and white applicants, thereby violating federal civil rights law.

The department has threatened to file a lawsuit against the university if “remedial” measures are not taken and has demanded that the university stop using race or national origin for its upcoming admissions.

In the past, the Justice Department had similar concerns for other educational institutions such as Harvard University. In 2019, a federal judge cleared any charges of racial discrimination by Harvard against Asian-American applicants.

What has the investigation found?

The Justice Department claims that Yale University has illegally discriminated against Asian Americans and white applicants in its undergraduate admissions process, which violates certain provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The two-year investigation was undertaken after a complaint was filed by Asian-American groups concerning Yale’s conduct.

“The Department of Justice found Yale discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year. For the great majority of applicants, Asian Americans and whites have only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African-American applicants with comparable academic credentials,” a press release issued by the Justice Department said.

Significantly, the Justice Department notes that while the US Supreme Court has held that colleges receiving federal funds can consider applicants’ race in “limited circumstances” as one of the factors for granting admission to an applicant, Yale’s use of race has not been limited.

What has been Yale University’s response?

The university has called the department’s allegations “baseless” and maintains that the department has rushed to conclude its investigation without performing a complete analysis. Further, the university has said that it will not change its admission process based on the allegations since they seek to “impose a standard that is inconsistent with existing law.”

What is affirmative action?

In the US, affirmative action is referred to as a set of policies that seek to uplift historically persecuted communities by ensuring their representation in spaces such as universities and has long been derided by conservatives as unfair.

Affirmative action policies that were supported by former president Barack Obama as a way of making campuses more diverse have been strongly opposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

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Critics have interpreted the Justice Department’s move against Yale as a step to nudge the courts into scrapping affirmative action altogether.

A brief history of affirmative action in the US

In the US, affirmative action was developed in the 1960s as a response to address racial inequalities and racial exclusion. President John F Kennedy used it for the first time in 1961 when he instructed federal contractors to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, which prohibited employment discrimination by large employers. In 1967, president Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order that extended affirmative action for women.

In 1978, the US Supreme Court upheld the use of race as one factor in choosing among qualified applicants for admission. In the 60s and 70s, colleges started developing their own policies integrating affirmative action to help the inclusion of those from the disadvantaged and underrepresented sections of society, which included racial minorities.

Further, while the US high courts have outlawed the use of racial quotas, institutions of higher learning consider race as one of the criteria for admissions.

The Justice Department has now said in its findings that Yale has failed to “limit” the consideration of race for admission as one of the reasons. “Yale uses race at multiple steps of its admissions process resulting in a multiplied effect of race on an applicant’s likelihood of admission,” the department’s report published on Thursday said.

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