The Department of Education is investigating an allegation that Princeton University discriminated against an Asian American student in its admissions process.
Princeton, which has promised full cooperation with the investigation, still denies exercising any form of discrimination in terms of racial quotas, though they state that they “act affirmatively to ensure diversity.”
A statement issued by the university’s media relations department said that admissions counselors evaluate each applicant individually on a wide range of factors including the student’s transcript, essays, extracurricular activities and standardized tests.
“Some years we are looking for students with special aptitudes in fields such as art or music. We are trying to build a diverse class,” the statement said.
Yale freshman Jian Li thought he was a shoe-in for Princeton due to his perfect SAT score. He based his complaint on the grounds that Princeton’s admissions procedures give preference to other minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics, legacy applicants and athletes at the expense of Asians.
Li’s complaint notes the significance of a recent study conducted by two Princeton professors. The study concludes that if the university did not consider race, it would greatly increase its number of Asian students, for they would take admissions slots previously held by black and Hispanic students.
It has been speculated that Li’s case may travel all the way up to the Supreme Court. If this occurs, there is a possibility that the new conservative justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel L. Alito could overturn an earlier court decision and declare the consideration of race in college admissions to be unconstitutional.
Li’s case is unusual because he is a member of a racial minority complaining about affirmative action. Asian Americans represent 14 percent of this year’s freshman class. Asians are second only to whites as having the most college enrollments, despite only being 4.2 percent of the population according to the 2000 U.S. Census. At Berkeley University in California, at 43.3 percent, there are more Asian students than white.
A report by the Government Accountability Office noted a rise in the number of complaints by Asians to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. A higher percentage of these complaints involved discrimination in the college admissions process. In addition, the OCR concluded that the majority of the complaints brought by Asian students are valid, unlike many other cases reviewed.
But most Asian students attending Princeton see little merit in Lee’s complaint. Sara Baiyu Chen, a junior, cannot recall any instances of discrimination, in her admissions process or otherwise. Chen was even admitted to Princeton despite lacking exceptional grades and SAT scores.
“I didn’t have a 4.0 [GPA] or anything close to a 1,600 on my SAT’s when I got accepted,” Chen said.
Michelle Chen, a sophomore at Princeton, also does not feel discriminated against, but she said she is aware of the affirmative action in her school’s admissions process. She said it is important in order to maintain diversity and prevent one ethnic group from dominating a university.
“I ask myself, ‘Would I have gotten into more schools if I weren’t Asian?'” Chen said. “The answer may be yes, but it doesn’t really bother me. I respect the aims of affirmative action.”
“I do not feel that there is any merit to this complaint,” she added. “This student may not have gotten into Princeton and Harvard, but he did get into Yale, and isn’t that enough?”
That will be a question the U.S. Department of Education addresses when reaching its decision.