Title IX Reform Takes Center Court
When the Bush administration cracked open the rulebooks of Title IX in 2002, critics of the landmark law applauded, saying it had failed to live up to its mandate of preventing gender discrimination in academics and school sports. Defenders of the status quo, meanwhile, bemoaned what they said was the potential to roll back 30 years of gains. A year of arguments later, the Bush administration decided to leave Title IX alone.
That was then. In the years since the 2002 review, critics of the law have opened Title IX up to scrutiny once again. Last week dozens of athletes staged a rally at the U.S. Department of Education and later met with officials to seek changes in the law. And just last month, the department issued regulations reinterpreting the law's restrictions on single-sex classrooms for the first time since 1975. Observers called them the most significant regulation changes in 30 years.
Title IX has always fed concerns that by trying to help women, it ends up hurting men. But with women now enjoying an overwhelming numeric advantage over men at many college campuses, that concern is now amplified.
"Times change, and so should legislation," says Mitch Dalton, a senior at James Madison University in Virginia, where women represent 61 percent of the student body.
The most recent outcry over Title IX came last month when JMU announced that it had been forced to cut 10 varsity sports in order to comply with the law. Title IX requires athletics programs to prove that they offer equal opportunities to men and women in one of three possible ways. In a review, JMU officials said they realized they failed the second test, of a "history and continuing practice" of improving opportunities for women," and didn't want to follow the third test, which would require upgrading the school's women's equestrian team to varsity status. That left them with the first test, known as proportionality. With a male-female ratio of 39 to 61 percent compared with an athletic participation rate of 49 to 51 percent, proportionality would be hard to meet without either adding lots of new women's programs or cutting from men's. "[Title IX] has done a lot of great things," says Mitch Dalton, captain of JMU's men's swimming team. But, now, he says, "there are more women going to college than there are men. This proportionality [constraint] is not going to be able to hold up."
It was with that in mind that JMU athletes met with officials of the Education Department's civil rights division to seek an end to the proportionality constraint. Jim McCarthy, a spokesman for the College Sports Council, said the education officials were "very receptive" to their request and promised to bring their proposal to the attention of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. The officials also suggested that they take their case to Congress.
David Black, a deputy assistant secretary of education, said the department was willing to hear everyone out, but "at this time, there are no changes coming." Yet Title IX defenders aren't so sure.