Yale University illegally discriminated against white and Asian American students, the US Justice Department said after its investigation found race to be the “determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.”
The findings are the result of a two-year investigation in response to a complaint by Asian American groups concerning Yale's conduct.
The Justice Department said it had concluded that the Ivy League university gave too much weight to race in reviewing applications, in violation of federal civil rights law.
Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, claimed that Yale grants “substantial, and often determinative” preferences to certain “racially-favored applicants” and disfavours others.
He also asserted that for “the great majority” of cases, Asian American and white applicants have “only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.”
Federal data show that 40 per cent of Yale’s undergraduates are white, 20 per cent are of Asian descent, 14 per cent are Hispanic or Latino, 8 per cent are black and 7 per cent are multiracial. The other 10 per cent are from foreign countries.
“There is no such thing as a nice form of race discrimination,” Mr Dreiband said. “Unlawfully dividing Americans into racial and ethnic blocs fosters stereotypes, bitterness and division.”
The department ordered Yale to suspend the consideration of race or national origin in admissions for one year. It said it was prepared to file a lawsuit against Yale if the school, in New Haven, Connecticut, did not take "remedial measures."
The Trump administration has made moves against race-based admissions policies at elite universities.
The latest finding could have far-reaching consequences for the ongoing legal challenges to affirmative action, which are currently playing out in US courts.
Affirmative action programs in higher education were meant to address racial discrimination.
The Supreme Court has ruled universities may use it with the aim of helping minority applicants get into college.
A federal judge last year handed Harvard University a victory in that case brought by Students for Fair Admissions, ruling that it had not discriminated against Asian Americans.
Yale pledged to fight the order, saying Thursday that it would stay committed to its admissions process.
“The department’s allegation is baseless,” said Peter Salovey, Yale’s president. “At this unique moment in our history, when so much attention properly is being paid to issues of race, Yale will not waver in its commitment to educating a student body whose diversity is a mark of its excellence.”