No Thanks to Title IX

by Carrie Lukas

Sarah Palin’s new book will be picked over for anything that could start a controversy, which is why even this throwaway line from a pre-released excerpt is worth addressing:

I also consider myself a grateful beneficiary of the movement for female equality, particularly Title IX, the federal law that mandates equal opportunity for women in high school and college sports.

Certainly all American women should feel grateful for the work of suffragettes and other feminist trailblazers, but Title IX is more than a legislative milestone in the push for women’s equality. It’s an example of how innocent-sounding initiatives advanced in the name of “equality” can lead to intrusive government overreach and lost freedoms.

Title IX reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” That may sound perfectly reasonable, but it’s the enforcement that gets tricky. What does it mean for someone to “be excluded from participation,” and how can educational institutions prove that they aren’t discriminating?

We have long passed the point when schools responded to Title IX by creating overdue opportunities for women to participate in athletics. Today, schools that comply with the spirit of the law still struggle to meet its modern-day enforcement criteria. There is only one quantifiable, get-out-of-lawsuit-free option for schools: achieving “proportionality,” i.e., making sure the gender breakdown of the school’s athletes mirrors that of the student body.

Proportionality is made all the more difficult by the fact that nearly six in ten undergraduates are women. That means that schools have to make sure that 60 percent of their athletes are also women. While Title IX supporters like Palin might assume that proportionality is always achieved by creating new opportunities for women, cost-conscious colleges know there’s more than one way to make the numbers work. If it’s too expensive or difficult to increase the number of female athletes on campus, then eliminating male teams is a surefire way to make the numbers balance.

And in fact, the number of men’s sports teams has been steadily declining. A study released in 2007 by the College Sports Council shows that between 1981 and 2005, the number of male athletes per school declined 6 percent, and men’s teams per school dropped 17 percent. During the same time period, the number of female athletes and number of women’s teams per school increased 34 percent.

The drop in male athletic participation is particularly sad since athletics are a primary extracurricular activity for male students. Women tend to dominate other activities — from campus newspapers to theater productions to student government to academic clubs (needless to say, no one has contemplated enforcing Title IX in these arenas). As opportunities for men to play sports dry up, many male students become less engaged in their school communities.

Limited-government supporters like Sarah Palin should instinctively recoil from the idea of government’s attempting to micromanage how American students spend their free time, and mothers of sons should be concerned about a law that is effectively resulting in reverse discrimination. It should be none of government’s business which extracurricular activities students choose to engage in, so long as both sexes have the opportunity to freely make their own choices.

Title IX benefits from misleading P.R. Many believe the term is synonymous with equality between the sexes; in fact, it’s code for big-government meddling in the name of political correctness. Palin may be glad she had the chance to play competitive basketball, but she should recognize that today Title IX is no longer about equality. It’s a prime example of government overreach.

— Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.