Anti-affirmative action group sues Yale over its use of race in admissions

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Dive Brief:

  • Students for Fair Admissions is suing Yale University in a federal court, alleging the institution uses race unfairly in its undergraduate admissions decisions.
  • The anti-affirmative action group indicated it planned to sue Yale after the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month dropped its lawsuit against the university, though an investigation is ongoing.
  • SFFA, which has similar legal challenges underway against a handful of universities, is also asking the Supreme Court to take up its complaint against Harvard University.

Dive Insight:

Race-conscious college admissions policies have survived prior challenges at the high court, but the verdict could be different this time around as the bench’s new conservative majority increases the odds it would strike them down.

A U.S. appeals court upheld Harvard’s admissions process this past fall. The case is part of an SFFA-led offensive against consideration of race in admissions. In it, SFFA argued that Harvard discriminates against its Asian-American applicants. 

Yale joins the list of universities SFFA is taking to court over their admissions practices, which also includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin. 

In its complaint against Yale filed Tuesday, SFFA alleges admissions officers are encouraged to treat information about race from applicants who identify as Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or as part of certain Asian-American subgroups as “a positive factor” when deciding whether they should be admitted. SFFA says officials are instructed to treat race as a negative factor at certain steps of the process for applicants who identify as White or Asian.

The group cites annual data on applicants and admitted students to argue that Yale uses race to keep the share of Black and Asian applicants “within a very narrow range in order to ensure a racially-balanced student body.” SFFA contends the practice amounts to racial discrimination, and that the university isn’t using race in a “narrowly tailored way.”

Arguments in favor of race-conscious admissions say colleges should be able to create their own student bodies, and the courts have allowed it so long as the use is narrowly tailored and designed to improve the educational experience for all students. But experts have advised colleges with such policies to examine them and make sure they’re documenting the impact.

Karen Peart, Yale’s media relations director, defended Yale’s admissions practices in an email to Higher Ed Dive on Thursday. Yale is in compliance with Supreme Court precedent, Peart wrote, contending that SFFA’s lawsuit “resurrects the misleading statistics, factual errors, and legal misstatements” from the Trump administration’s lawsuit that the Biden administration withdrew. 

A Harvard spokesperson shared a statement Thursday saying the university’s policies are “consistent with Supreme Court precedent,” and that it “will continue to vigorously defend the right” of Harvard and other colleges “to seek the educational benefits that come from bringing together a diverse group of students.”



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