Bush Retreats on Title IX Revisions
Opponents vow to continue efforts to weaken law
By Ben Hammer
The U.S. Department of Education in early July announced it would not alter its enforcement of the 1972 law known as Title IX that has led to a dramatic increase in women’s participation in athletics, heading off challenges to the law by an administration panel considering its alteration.
The Education Department said in a statement on July 11 that it would uphold guidelines it issued in 1996 to the law, which calls for a proportional number of sports opportunities for men and women in college athletics. A presidential commission met to discuss improvements to Title IX, resulting in two documents written by panel members in January.
The federal law led to the creation of women’s scholarships, sports programs and some even say women’s professional leagues that had not existed before. A group of men’s college sports coaches mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn Title IX, and many observers had thought the administration’s review of the law would result in significant changes to its enforcement (see Black Issues, April 10).
“Since its enactment in 1972, Title IX has produced significant advancement in athletic opportunities for women and girls across the nation,” said Gerald Reynolds, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, in a statement. “Recognizing that more remains to be done, the Bush administration is firmly committed to building on this legacy and continuing the progress that Title IX has brought toward true equality of opportunity for
male and female student-athletes in America.”
House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., applauded the Education Department’s decision, and urged it to put more energy into enforcing the law.
“Instead of wasting time examining laws that work, I urge the administration to find ways to strengthen Title IX and to fulfill its promise by making sure that all students have an equal playing field, not only for athletics but for all educational opportunities,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Jamie Moffatt, executive director of the College Sports Council, said the Bush administration had “sold out to the gender equity advocates.” Moffatt is a former Cornell University wrestler and retired businessman.
“I don’t think the Bush administration wanted to feel the wrath of the feminists,” he says. “They made the political decision that they didn’t want to antagonize those people who want to keep the quota system there because they’ve been so vocal.”
The College Sports Council, an association of men’s wrestling, gymnastics, swimming and diving, track and field, and golf coaches, said it will continue its efforts to oppose and weaken Title IX. The group maintains that schools routinely slash men’s sports funding to comply with the Education Department’s 1996 guidelines on Title IX.
Reynolds addressed this issue directly in his statement, stressing to schools that “nothing in Title IX requires the cutting or reduction of teams in order to demonstrate compliance with Title IX, and that the elimination of teams is a disfavored practice.”
He went on to say that the Education Department would initiate a campaign to educate schools that they have more ways to comply with Title IX than simply providing athletic opportunities in proportion to men’s and women’s numbers and interest on campus.
Lisa Maatz, director of public policy at the American Association of University Women, said the decision is important, but will only lead to increased opportunities for women if the administration puts the same effort into advising colleges about Title IX as it did into examining the law.
“If the (Education) Department truly does undertake an educational program to assist colleges in their understanding of how they can meet Title IX,” colleges will have the flexibility that they have always had,” Maatz says. “I would hope that this will reaffirm to those colleges that have been dragging their feet that they should redesign their programs appropriately so that they truly meet the needs of their student body.”
Since the law’s passage, the level of women’s participation in sports has increased many times, with female high school athletes increasing from less than 300,000 before the law’s passage to almost 2.5 million today. In college sports, the number of women participants has increased from almost 30,000 to about 130,000 participants from 1971 to 1997.
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