"Anything that seems unfair is under scrutiny," Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye told students yesterday in a rare roundtable discussion that ranged from allegations of discrimination to the implications of the University's elimination of Early Decision.
Addressing the ongoing investigation into the University's admission policies for Asian-Americans, Rapelye told roughly 30 students in Frist 308 that "the numbers don't indicate [discrimination]," and "what we're doing is as fair as it can be."
Last month, Yale freshman Jian Li filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, claiming that the University discriminated against him because he is Asian. Though Li received a perfect 2400 SAT score, he was rejected from five top schools, including Princeton. After reading a study by Princeton sociologists that removing race-based admissions would benefit Asians, he decided to file the complaint.
As part of the investigation, the Admission Office examined its statistics from last year. Rapelye said that about 50 percent of students with perfect SAT scores were admitted, and that admissions officers look closely at extracurricular activities to piece together a holistic view of each candidate.
"Many others had far better qualifications," Rapelye said of Li, breaking with the office's tradition of not commenting on specific applications. "His outside activities were not all that outstanding."
But, she added, the University is "taking [the investigation] very seriously."
Rapelye also discussed the implications of the University's decision to eliminate Early Decision after this year.
"Early Decision was something that we had been paying attention to for over four years," she said. One reason it was not abolished earlier, she explained, was that a Justice Department investigation in 1990 discouraged universities from comparing admissions strategies. As a result, no university wanted to take a first step.
Several years ago, Yale, Harvard and Stanford switched to single-choice Early Action, in which students apply early but are not required to matriculate if accepted. The University did not follow, however, because the change "didn't seem to be helping students," Rapelye said.
But when Harvard abolished Early Decision earlier this year, Rapelye applauded them, and Princeton soon followed suit.
"Early Decision is an advantage for the already advantaged students," she said.
Reaction to the policy has been mixed. Rapelye said that most high schools have commended the University's decision, and that she has reached out to concerned coaches, assuring them of her commitment to recruiting Division-I scholar-athletes.
Alumni have also worried that eliminating Early Decision will reduce the number of generous supporters, as early admits tend to have the strongest ties to the University. But, Rapelye said, "Loyalties are formed when you come here, not before."
Another frequent concern is that the policy will decrease the University's yield, or the number of admitted applicants who matriculate. Rapelye acknowledged that the yield will likely drop from its current level of around 70 percent, but said that the University will still attract "a great class."
Answering a question about the University's five-level system to assess applicants' academic achievement, Rapelye said the ratings are a "way for us to put the pool in some kind of order."
The ratings are not the only consideration admissions officers use, however, as "it is almost impossible to be a 'one' if [a candidate] comes from a low socioeconomic background," she said.
The key, Rapelye explained, is finding a balance in the class. "Race can be a plus factor in reading a file, and that sometimes factors in and sometimes doesn't, and we literally do not keep track," she said. "The process is more art than science."
In the coming years, Rapelye hopes to better articulate the University's mission to prospective candidates. The office is now putting together a website that focuses on the strength of the financial aid program, and Rapelye is reaching out to organizations that can put the University in contact with high achieving candidates from less privileged backgrounds.
"We hope to continue to attract students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds," Rapelye said. "It is our responsibility to explain and talk about who we are and not assume people know us."
The lunch discussion was organized by the Pace Center as part of the Civic Awareness and Action Series.