Lengthy federal probe of admissions finds no discrimination against Asian applicants

A federal review of Princeton’s undergraduate admissions that began nine years ago has ended, finding no evidence that the University discriminated against Asian or Asian American applicants.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced its findings in a letter to President Eisgruber ’83 that the University released Sept. 23.

The review was begun in response to two complaints that charged that Princeton was discriminating on the basis of race and national origin. One was filed by a student from China who was waitlisted in 2006, the other by parents of a student of Indian descent who applied unsuccessfully in 2011.

OCR found the University pursued “a broad definition of diversity,” for which race and national origin were among many factors that were considered in efforts to assemble a broadly diverse student body.

Looking at 15 years of data, the agency said it found no evidence that the University tried to limit the number of applicants admitted from any racial or national-origin group. Instead, OCR said, the percentage of Asian students admitted has risen steadily, from 14.2 percent of the Class of 2007 to 25.4 percent of the Class of 2014.

The OCR report described in detail the way the admission office reviews applications and said it found no evidence of separate processes or tracks by race. “Each applicant who was offered admission competed against all other applicants for admission,” the report said.

Reviewing more than 1,000 application files for the Class of 2010, OCR found that sometimes race or national origin received positive attention, and sometimes it did not. Each of the 17,000-plus applications that year was read by multiple staff members, the report said; final selections for admission usually were made by a committee of at least five people.

OCR said it was told by the University that Princeton “denied admission to literally hundreds of non-Asian applicants for the Class of 2010 who were valedictorians, and over 3,000 non-Asian applicants with a 4.0 GPA. These non-Asian applicants were not admitted despite the fact that many Asian students who did not have these academic credentials were admitted.”

OCR looked closely at legal standards and Supreme Court decisions governing the use of race by programs that seek diversity. Eisgruber said in a statement that he was pleased that the agency had found that “the University’s holistic review of applicants in pursuit of its compelling interest in diversity meets the standards set by the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court decided in June that it would once again take up a legal challenge to the admission policies of the University of Texas at Austin, providing an opportunity to re-examine its guidance.

The co-presidents of the Asian American Alumni Association of Princeton, Michael Chow ’04 and Chris Loh ’86, said in a statement that they were pleased with OCR’s findings. “Diversity in viewpoints and cultures enriches the University experience, and we are happy to know that students of Asian descent now contribute substantively to the diversity of Princeton’s student body,” they said.

A different reaction came from the Asian-American Coalition for Education, which found OCR’s conclusions “shocking, disappointing, and nonconvincing.”

Read the full text of the OCR letter at http://bit.ly/OCRletter.