WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden has fought for equal opportunities for female athletes for much of his political career. The Title IX amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in 1972, the year Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate.
Biden on Tuesday announced that the Obama administration will repeal a policy in the amendment that former President George W. Bush implemented in 2005 that allowed colleges, universities and secondary schools that receive federal funding to use a survey to gauge women’s interest in sports and attribute low response rates to lack of interest. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined Biden at George Washington University for the announcement.
“We had a lot of fights after Title IX was passed, just to keep it alive. I used to get a lot of heat from [friends] who said, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to ruin college football and basketball programs,’” Biden recalled. In response, he would tell them, “I promise your mind’s going to change the moment you have a daughter. When you’re surrounded by women who are as competitive and smart and tough, it’s an amazing thing!”
Biden said strengthening the policy, which critics have said enables schools to avoid providing gender equity in sports programs, will “allow women to realize their potential — so this nation can realize its potential.”
Previously, schools were required to prove gender equity in sports programs in one of three ways: matching women’s participation in sports proportionately to their enrollment; expanding athletics opportunities for women; and demonstrating that they were meeting female students’ athletic abilities and interests.
“There is no doubt that Title IX has dramatically increased athletic, academic and employment opportunities for women and girls, and educational institutions have made big strides in providing equal opportunities in sports,” said Duncan. “Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs — and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this important civil right.”
Under the new policy, schools can still use the three-part test but they can no longer rely on surveys to assess female students’ interest or ability or characterize nonresponses as lack of interest. Instead, they will have to consider additional factors, such as student requests for an additional sport or participation rates at feeder high schools.
Clark-Atlanta University Athletic Director Tamica Jones, a member of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, said the survey has been a useful tool that revealed an interest by women on her campus to participate in soccer and swimming. But, she adds, it doesn’t go far enough and should not be the only measure.
According to Dr. Jones, male and female participation levels at all NCAA member institutions, including HBCUs, have remained steady in the past year. Still, HBCUs continue to struggle with proportionality because of declining male enrollments and a lack of financial resources to fully fund their athletic programs.
“Using the proportional enrollment factor that’s required for NCAA-sponsored sports will help schools get in line a lot faster,” Jones said “We really do need a successful Title IX plan and it’s long overdue across the board.”
The Education Department has sent a letter to schools outlining the new policy and recommendations for ways to collect, maintain and evaluate information on students’ interests and abilities.
“This restores Title IX to where it was before the 2009 policy that was so harmful for women and girls,” said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center. “It basically puts girls back at the starting line to ensure that they’re going to get equal opportunities in sports, which we know is so important for a whole host of reasons, such as academic and employment success.”
Moving forward, Chaudhry added, “The Education Department and others need to enforce this law and schools need to really take a look at their programs and make sure that they’re treating all of their students fairly.”