Princeton University under investigation by U.S. Department of Education for racial discrimination

The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into whether Princeton University has violated provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color and national  origin in programs that receive federal funds.

Depending on the results of the investigation, which was announced in a Sept. 16 letter to Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber, the U.S. Department of Education may seek to recover more than $75 million in Title IV taxpayer funds awarded to the university, as well as a possible fine.

Title IV is the federal student financial aid program, under the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Princeton University disagrees with those assertions, and in a statement released by its Officer of Communications, the university “stands by its representations to the department and the public that it complies with all laws and regulations governing equal opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment.”

In its Sept. 16 letter to Eisgruber, the U.S. Department of Education wrote that since 2013, when he became president, Princeton University “has repeatedly represented and warranted to the U.S. Department of Education (its) compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Title VI provides no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” the letter said.

“Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education is concerned Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances inits Program Participation Agreements from at least 2013 to the present may have been false.

“The department is further concerned that Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made,” according to the Sept. 16 letter.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Education stems from a Sept. 2 letter that Eisgruber wrote to the Princeton University community which outlined the steps that the Ivy League university would take to address systemic racism at Princeton in the wake of the deaths of several Black men and women by police.

In the Sept. 2 letter, Eisgruber wrote that “we must ask how Princeton can address systemic racism in the world, and we must ask how to address it within our own community,” even though for the past 50 years, it has made efforts to be more inclusive.

Eisgruber acknowledged that for most of its 274-year history, Princeton University “intentionally and systematically excluded people of color, women, Jews and other minorities.” The university now takes pride in the diversity of its community, he wrote.

“Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persists at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity,” Eisgruber wrote.

“Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the university itself,” he wrote, pointing to academic departmental emphasis on European languages and cultures, but only one small program in African studies.

In its Sept. 16 letter to Eisgruber, the U.S. Department of Education noted the university’s decision to “undertake enhanced efforts to expand diversity of the faculty pipeline and aspire to increase by 50% the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members from underrepresented groups over the next five years” as as admission of racism.

Princeton University also plans to broaden and diversify its vendors, consultants, professional firms and other business partners, which the U.S. Department of Education claimed was also an admission of racism. The Sept. 16 letter stated that “because of racism, you announced race-based ‘diversity’ measures for hiring, procurement, teaching, fellowship and research funding.”

As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has requested records from Princeton University, some dating to 2013, within 21 calendar days. “The serious, even shocking nature of Princeton’s admissions compel the Department to move with all appropriate speed,” according to the Sept. 16 letter.

Princeton University officials also have been asked to respond to several questions, including how many persons “were excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance by Princeton University” since 2015, and whether that number is evidence of systemic or embedded racism.

In response to the U.S. Department of Education’s letter, Princeton University officials said the university is “vigilant” in its pursuit of equity in every aspect of its programs and operations.

Princeton University stands by its statements about the prevalence of systemic racism and its commitment to “reckon with its continued effects, including the racial injustice and race-based inequities that persist throughout American society,” officials said in a statement.

“The university will respond to the Department of Education’s letter in due course. It is unfortunate that the department appears to believe that grappling honestly with the nation’s history and current effects of systemic racism runs afoul of existing law,” officials said.

“The university disagrees and looks forward to furthering our educational mission by explaining why our statements and actions are consistent not only with the law, but also with the highest ideas and aspirations of this country,” officials said.