Princeton's record on Asian admissions examined

June 12, 2008 1:28:30 PM PDT
The U.S. Education Department has broadened a review into whether Princeton University discriminates against applicants of Asian descent. The university said Tuesday that it's providing admissions information to the Education Department as part of an investigation into whether it complies with civil-rights law.

The case stems from a federal civil-rights complaint filed in 2006 by Jian Li, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Livingston.

Li said Princeton and other elite institutions rejected him, even though he had perfect SAT scores, was in the top 1 percent of his high school class and had earned other honors.

Li, who enrolled at Yale but now goes to Harvard, claimed that Princeton has set a cap on how many highly qualified Asian students it admits - admitting less qualified applicants from other racial groups.

Earlier this year, the Education Department decided not just to look at Li's complaint, but to conduct a general review of whether Princeton is complying with federal civil rights regulations with regard to Asian applicants, said Jim Bradshaw, a department spokesman.

Department officials, according to Bradshaw, are specifically looking at admissions data for the class of 2010, which Li applied to join.

Li said he had always hoped the complaint would be expanded beyond his individual case.

"This was never about my personal gain. It was rather about principle," Li said.

Princeton isn't the only elite university in the country to face complaints that it makes it harder for Asian applicants to gain admission. In his book "The Price of Admission," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Daniel Golden described the problem as widespread at top schools, and compared it to the way the Ivies handled Jewish applicants decades ago.

Princeton says that the year Li applied, 14 percent of the admitted class was Asian. The university declined to give the percentage of Asian applicants but said no discrimination occurred.

"We consider each applicant as an individual, taking many factors into account as we seek to enroll a class that is both excellent and diverse," said university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt.