The Justice Department said Yale University has discriminated against Asian-American and white applicants, issuing its findings roughly two years after opening an investigation into the school’s admissions practices.

The department said Thursday that it found Yale discriminates based on race and national origin, violating federal civil-rights law, and that race was the “determinative factor” in hundreds of admissions decisions each year. It said for the majority of applicants, Asian-American and white students have one-tenth to one-fourth the likelihood of being admitted as African-American applicants with comparable academic credentials.

“Yale rejects scores of Asian American and white applicants each year based on their race, whom it otherwise would admit,” the Justice Department said.

Yale President Peter Salovey called the Justice Department’s allegation baseless and said the school has been fully cooperating with the investigation. “However,” he wrote in a letter to the school community Thursday evening, “the DOJ concluded its investigation before reviewing and receiving all the information it has requested.”

The Justice Department asked Yale for 10 years worth of detailed admissions data; the school so far had produced three years of information, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Yale says it relies on a holistic review of applicants, including academics, leadership experience, their backgrounds and more.

The Justice Department’s move marks an escalation of Trump administration efforts to challenge the longstanding consideration of race in selective colleges’ admissions decisions.

Questions of fairness and equity are hot-button issues in admissions, with many groups feeling aggrieved by the current system. Last year, prosecutors uncovered a sprawling scheme by which some wealthy families committed fraud to help their children get into top-tier schools by cheating on the SAT and ACT or feigning athletic credentials. Many institutions are reassessing how they use metrics including standardized tests in their admissions reviews, amid concerns that scores are closely tied to race and socioeconomic status, and don’t necessarily serve as good predictors of college success.

That universities should be allowed to consider an applicant’s race, in a limited fashion, in crafting their undergraduate classes is supported by four decades of Supreme Court precedents. Schools say diverse campuses have educational benefits, such as better preparing students for the global workforce.

The Justice Department said Thursday that Yale’s use of race is “anything but limited.” It said the university takes race into account at multiple points and racially balances its class in a practice similar to quotas.

Yale must agree to not use race or national origin in its upcoming undergraduate admissions cycle, for the class applying this fall, the Justice Department said in a letter to Yale dated Thursday. If the school does propose to consider race or national origin in future admissions cycles, it must first submit a plan “demonstrating that its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law.” The proposal would also need to include a date by which Yale would end its use of race as a factor in admissions, the letter said.

The letter said Yale had two weeks to agree to the demands, or the Justice Department would be prepared to file a lawsuit.

Dr. Salovey said Yale won’t change its admissions processes in response to the Justice Department’s request “because the DOJ is seeking to impose a standard that is inconsistent with existing law.”

Just under 26% of Yale’s class of 2023 identified as Asian-American, and 49.3% identified as white. Another 11.8% identified as African-American, 15% as Hispanic, 3% as Native American and 9.5% as international, according to the university. Because students self-reported and some identified as multiple ethnicities, the percentages don’t add up to 100%. Yale admitted 6.2% of 36,844 applicants for the class that started in fall 2019.

The Justice Department also supported a group that sued Harvard University in 2014 alleging similar discriminatory behavior. A Boston judge decided in October that Harvard didn’t discriminate intentionally against Asian-American applicants. Her decision has been appealed, and oral arguments before a federal appeals court are scheduled for next month.

The Justice Department began investigating Yale in 2018, based on a 2016 complaint filed with the Justice and Education Departments by a group of Asian-American organizations, led by the Asian American Coalition for Education.

In its letter, the Justice Department said its investigation found Yale’s diversity goals to be “vague, elusory, and amorphous,” and that the school “does virtually nothing to cabin, limit, or define its use of race during the Yale College admissions process.”

The department found that every year from 2000 to 2017, Yale’s admitted class had a lower share of Asian-American students than would have reflected their proportion in the applicant pool; the same held true for white applicants during a majority of those years, the Justice Department said. Meanwhile, Yale admitted candidates from what the department referred to as “preferred racial groups,” including Black and Hispanic students, at a higher rate than would reflect their share of the applicant pool.

Write to Melissa Korn at

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