Title IX up for debate

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Supporters of the status quo for Title IX were dealt a setback Tuesday when a Bush administration commission issued procedures that stated its final report ''will not include minority views.'' Commissioner Donna de Varona said the procedures are ''tantamount to a gag order.''

The Education Department's 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics will debate and vote on as many as 24 recommendations during public meetings Wednesday and Thursday. Several commissioners have said they expect the panel will vote to weaken the 31-year-old gender equity law that greatly increased female participation in sports.

De Varona, a two-time Olympic champion swimmer, is among a minority of commissioners who would like to see Title IX's rules remain essentially intact. She echoed sentiments expressed by several women's groups that the makeup of the commission was stacked in favor of Division I schools who would like to see the rules relaxed.

''We consider that this is tantamount to a gag order,'' de Varona said. ''We want a minority report. It's our right as commissioners who have spent a lifetime fighting for equality.

''Regardless of the what the findings are, we should have been allowed to include a minority opinion or expression. That's the American way.''

The list of procedures, obtained by The Associated Press, said minority views will not be included ''in fairness to the commissioners who have worked hard to achieve consensus,'' but that opposition views will be reflected in the transcript of the meetings.

''They can vote against a particular recommendation,'' Education Department deputy press secretary Susan Aspey said. ''They can speak out against a particular recommendation, and their opposition will be noted for the permanent record.''

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Critics say the law has, in effect, punished male athletes to provide more opportunities for women.

Earlier Tuesday, Donna Lopiano, Women's Sports Foundation executive director, said at a news conference she is concerned that changes would erode gains made by women.

''To suggest that it's OK for a federal law to allow women to be treated in a manner that is inferior to men is unfathomable in this day and age,'' she said.

Commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. national women's soccer team, said she feels her fellow commissioners want to tinker with the Title IX rule that says a school's male-female athlete ratio should be ''substantially proportionate'' to the male-female enrollment.

Foudy is especially concerned about a proposal by fellow commissioner Debbie Yow, athletic director of the University of Maryland. The proposal would allow schools to have a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the makeup of the student body, with a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.

''That scares me,'' Foudy said in a telephone interview. ''The reality is that the universities are going to go down the path of least resistance, which would be 43 percent.''

But Yow said it was insulting to allege that colleges would manipulate the rules that way.

''It's attacking your integrity,'' Yow said. She said the leeway in her proposal could only be used for ''non-discriminatory'' reasons, such as midseason transfers and injuries. ''Fifty-fifty is the American way. How is that negative?''

The National Wrestling Coaches Association has a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, claiming the proportionality standard has led to the elimination of hundreds of men's sports teams.

''It's clear that proportionality just doesn't work,'' said Eric Pearson of the College Sports Council, which represents the coaches. ''It's created a quota system that was never intended when Title IX was originally created.''

Charlotte Hays of the Independent Women's Forum said the current standards don't work because ''women consistently express lower levels of interest in playing college sports than men.'' She cited statistics showing that men's participation in college intramural sports was 78 percent, compared with 22 percent for women.

Other proposals before the commission would tie a college's male-female athlete ratio to that of high schools in its area. Others would keep the current standard, but allow leeways of 3.5, 5 or 7 percentage points.

Lopiano said those measures would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of high school participation opportunities for girls and the loss of up to $189 million in college scholarships for women athletes each year.

With Lopiano at the news conference were soccer girls from Maryland and 14-year-old Tori Allen, a pole vaulter who is fighting for her sport to become an official women's high school discipline in Indiana.

''I hope that Title IX does not get changed or watered down anytime soon,'' Allen said. ''Otherwise, it will make it even more difficult for athletes like me to fight for the rights we should already have.''

Other possible changes in the commission's report include using campus surveys to gauge women's interest in sports and using the results as a basis to determine whether athletic programs accurately represent that interest.

No school has ever been sanctioned for not complying with Title IX. Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby and Penn State president Graham Spanier, both commission members, have a recommendation that calls for the Office of Civil Rights to start ''implementing sanctions'' rather than ''threatening sanctions.''

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