The U.S. Department of Education has dropped its investigation into whether Princeton University violated 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.
Princeton University was notified of the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to close the investigation on Jan. 13, said Princeton University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss.
Had the investigation proceeded, Princeton University was at risk of having to repay 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.
The investigation was triggered by a Sept. 2, 2020, letter to the Princeton University community from Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber.
In the Sept. 2 letter, Eisgruber outlined the steps that the Ivy League university would take to address systemic racism at Princeton. The letter was written in the aftermath of the deaths of several Black men and women by police.
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, Princeton has made efforts to become more inclusive.
Eisgruber acknowledged that for most of its 275-year history, Princeton University “intentionally and systematically excluded people of color, women, Jews and other minorities.” But, it now takes pride in the diversity of its community, he wrote.
Among the steps outlined by Eisgruber to address systemic racism are enhanced efforts to expand the diversity of the faculty pipeline, and to aspire to increase by 50% the number of tenured or tenure-track faculty members from under-represented groups over the next five years.
The university also said it would broaden and diversify its vendors, consultants, professional firms and other business partners – all of which was interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education as an acknowledgment that the university had practiced discrimination and thus violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The U.S. Department of Education announced its plans to investigate Princeton University in a Sept. 16 letter to Eisgruber. The letter cited Princeton University’s “admitted racism” – a contention with which Princeton University strongly disagreed.
Hotchkiss, the Princeton University spokesman, said the university responded to the Sept. 16 letter and explained why Princeton’s statements and actions were consistent with the law and with the highest ideals and aspirations of the United States.
Earlier this month in his State of the University letter, Eisgruber announced that the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation had been closed.
The federal agency “took no substantial action on its bogus ‘investigation’ except to close it as the Trump Administration left office,” Eisgruber wrote in the Feb. 4 letter.
“The Trump Administration’s Department of Education announced an investigation of Princeton because we declared our intention to address the effects of systemic racism on our campus and beyond,” he wrote.
The Trump Administration’s “specious theory” was that any institution that recognized the impact of systemic racism had thereby confessed to having violated federal anti-discrimination laws, Eisgruber wrote.
“That was, as I expect, even the Trump Administration’s lawyers knew, pure baloney. Princeton University is in full compliance with all anti-discrimination laws,” Eisgruber wrote.
Princeton University takes pride in its commitment to equality and inclusivity, and its initiatives to combat systemic racism are “part and parcel of that commitment – an effort to go above and beyond what the law requires,” he wrote.
Going “above and beyond” is what everyone in the Princeton University community must do “if we are to realize our aspirations at this university and in this country,” Eisgruber wrote.