A Princeton-Morgan Stanley joint venture in discrimination

Last week, Princeton freshmen received an email regarding Morgan Stanley’s Freshman Enhancement Program. That program “is designed to help diverse rising sophomores in college gain a better understanding of the various businesses and career paths Morgan Stanley provides.”

If selected for the program, rising sophomores “will participate in a hybrid program consisting of virtual learning and an in-person component.” They will also receive what Morgan Stanley describes as “valuable training, as well as opportunities to network with each other and learn from Morgan Stanley professionals across our divisions.” And they “will have the opportunity to interview for the 2023 Sophomore Summer Analyst Programs for the specific track they are in.”

Who is included in the “diverse” group that will receive these benefits and advantages? That group includes Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and/or LGBTQ+ freshman undergraduate students in the class of 2025. Everyone else is excluded. In fact, the program description lists membership in one or more of the above-mentioned groups as a “qualification” for the program.

It’s fine, in my view, that Morgan Stanley, Princeton, and other colleges involved in this program want to provide opportunities to students from a diverse set of backgrounds and, in particular, students who come from low-income families. It occurs to me, however, that anyone who’s a freshman at Princeton has a good opportunity to enter the world of investment banking and financial services.

Princeton students from any kind of family and background already have “privileged” status in the job market. It’s far from clear that any of them needs to be “enhanced.”

In any case, excluding students on the basis of their race, ethnicity, and or sexual orientation is problematic and illegal. And that’s what Morgan Stanley’s program does. It makes no pretense of using a “holistic” analysis to identify freshmen who come from low-income families or from other backgrounds (e.g. recent immigrants) that might put them at a disadvantage in seeking employment with Morgan Stanley or other firms in the same field.

In my view, Morgan Stanley, Princeton, and other participating schools are violating federal civil rights statutes through this program. They are probably violating state law, as well.

At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment because of race, national origin, and sex, which lately has been interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It applies to hiring programs, which is what the Freshman Enhancement Program amounts to. Morgan Stanley is providing a path to employment for members of certain groups and barring members of other groups from that path. That’s unlawful.

The Freshman Enhancement Program is a path to employment at Morgan Stanley, not Princeton. Even so, Princeton might be liable for employment discrimination along with Morgan Stanley.

Title VI states that “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.” Its ban on discrimination extends, but is not limited to, admissions, recruitment, financial aid, and alike, but also academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing and employment.

The Freshman Enhancement Program seems to run afoul of Title VI by discriminating in the distribution of training and employment opportunities.

Title IX is similar to Title XI. It prohibits sex discrimination (including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity) in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Freshman Enhancement Program expressly discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Thus, Princeton seems to be violating Title IX.

Readers may recall that the Trump Department of Education launched a civil rights investigation of Princeton pursuant to Title VI after its president said Princeton is plagued by systemic racism. The Biden administration dropped that investigation, and is not about to investigate Princeton and other college that excludes Whites and Asian Americans from its programs. Team Biden favors discriminating against these groups.

Nonetheless, the Freshman Enhancement Program probably violates at least one federal civil rights law. The next Republican administration might be unwilling to overlook Princeton’s unlawful discrimination.

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