Vice President Joe Biden announced the reversal of a 2005 interpretation of Title IX, a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding, Tuesday at George Washington University.
The 2005 clarification, which came during the Bush administration, allowed universities to demonstrate compliance with the anti-discrimination law by issuing an electronic survey designed to gauge the athletic interests and abilities of its student body.
“Making Title IX as strong as possible is a no-brainer,” Biden said during his speech. “What we’re doing here today will better ensure equal opportunity in athletics and allow women to realize their potential so this nation can realize its potential.”
Biden was joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who also praised the measure.
“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,” Duncan said. “Yet discrimination continues to exist in college athletic programs, and we should be vigilant in enforcing the law and protecting this civil right.”
Earlier this month, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report advocating the use of the model survey in determining whether a school is in compliance with Title IX by meeting the athletic interests and abilities of its student body.
The model survey has been highly criticized because it counts those who fail to respond as being uninterested in participating in athletics.
Colleges and universities can prove Title IX compliance by meeting at least one component of what is known as a three-prong test. The first is providing athletics opportunities substantially proportionate to the gender ratio of the student body — meaning that if 50 percent of the student body is female, approximately 50 percent of available athletics opportunities should be for women.
The second is to demonstrate a history of expanding athletics opportunities for the underrepresented sex.
Part three is showing that the athletic interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex are being fully and effectively accommodated by the institution.
The model survey was intended to show compliance with the third part.
While the model survey was shunned by the NCAA and seldom used, civil rights attorney and Women’s Sports Foundation Senior Director of Advocacy Nancy Hogshead-Makar said the reform strengthened Title IX.
“I think, more importantly, it signaled that the Department of Education is going to take Title IX athletics cases more seriously, which wasn’t happening under the previous administration,”
However, proponents of the model survey, like College Sports Council Chairman Eric Pearson, assailed the Obama administration’s decision.
“We were disappointed because the 2005 clarification was a small step forward towards a more fair and reasonable way to regulate Title IX,” Pearson said. “Unfortunately, a lot more students are going to be hurt by this. There are going to be many more programs eliminated.”
The College Sports Council is an organization that advocates Title IX reform, positing that its current implementation has led to an unnecessary reduction in men’s sports.
Pearson said the rollback of the 2005 clarification re-emphasizes the use of the first prong, which he describes as creating a “gender quota,” as the primary means of satisfying Title IX compliance.
“Title IX is a law that is an anti-discrimination law; it’s not a gender quota,” Pearson said. “And if you define gender equity by a quota, then you have a simple numerical system that will sanction discrimination against male athletes.”
According to data compiled by the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, of the more than 550,000 participants in intercollegiate athletics in 2008, 58 percent were men and 42 percent were women.
At the University of Minnesota, 46 percent of the 776 student-athletes during the 2008-09 academic year were men and 54 percent were women. These figures mirror the gender ratio amongst the more than 26,000 undergraduates at the University.
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