DOE Complaint Alleging Bias In Admissions Against Asian Students at Princeton

It will be interesting to follow this one. I remember many years ago reading an article in one of the newsweeklies (that I wished I had saved, but didn't), that contained a couple of startling bits of information. One was a quote from an official at one of the U.C. schools, I think it was Berkeley, protesting that "if we admitted students just based on their academic credentials, we'd wind up with 80% Jewish and Asian freshmen" (horrors!), or words to that effect (the 80% figure, along with the blatant acknowledgment that it would be problematic to have a class that's "too Jewish" and "too Asian" stuck in my mind). The other was that several Asian-American parents a year (this was in the 1980s) threatened to sue the U.C. system over discrimination in admissions, and the response of the system was to quietly admit these students to avoid litigation.

Anyway, here's the story:

Yale freshman Jian Li has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Princeton for rejecting his application for admission, claiming the University discriminated against him because he is Asian.

The complaint, which was filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on Oct. 25, alleges that the University's admissions procedures are biased because they advantage other minority groups, namely African-Americans and Hispanics, legacy applicants and athletes at the expense of Asian-American applicants.

"We've been notified of the complaint and asked to provide information to the Office of Civil Rights, and the University will provide the Office of Civil Rights with the information that it has requested," University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt '96 said yesterday. "But I will say that we do not believe that the case has merit."

The case, first reported this weekend by The Wall Street Journal, injects new life into a longstanding debate surrounding affirmative action and whether race can or should be a factor in college admissions. Li's minority status adds a new twist to the story, however, since previous complaints about universities' racial preference policies have been filed by white students alleging bias.

Li cites a recent study conducted by two Princeton professors as evidence for his case. The study, published in June 2005, concluded that removing consideration of race would have little effect on white students, but that Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in admitted classes that are currently taken by African-American or Hispanic students. ...

Princeton maintains that its admission policies do not discriminate against Asian-American or members of any other race. "We treat each application individually and we do not discriminate on the base of race or national origin," Cliatt said. "To the contrary, we seek to enroll and do enroll classes that are diverse by a multitude of measures."

UPDATE: FWIW, my own view, expressed quite explicitly in You Can't Say That!, is that private universities have an expressive association right to engage in affirmative action preferences, so long as they defend such preferences as a part of an attempt to educate students in a pro-"diversity" message. I've reprinted the relevant excerpt below, for those who are interested. I haven't thought about to what extent my argument is mooted by the FAIR case, so critiques on that basis may be justified.