Politics & Policy

In Retreat

Why is the Bush administration backtracking on modest Title IX reforms?

What was the point of setting up a blue-ribbon commission?

That’s the question currently on the mind of supporters of Title IX reform. Last week, upon receiving the final Commission on Opportunity in Athletics report, Secretary of Education, Rod Paige announced that he would only consider the recommendations that received unanimous consent.

In other words, any reform has to be embraced by the likes of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which was already (over)represented on the commission and which sets the terms of most of the Title IX debate and coverage.

Reception of the report has been far from unanimous: Feminist groups oppose some of the 19 “unanimous” recommendations, even those that their own sisters signed onto while serving on the commission. So, that criterion might not even pass the test in the end.

Supporters of reform are left perplexed. Eric Pearson, chairman of the College Sports Council, sent a letter to Paige over the weekend expressing his distress at the apparent cave. He wrote: “Instead of creating the commission, the Department of Education would have been better served if it had just convened a meeting with the Feminist Majority and the National Women’s Law Center and let them write the report. This would have saved the time of those citizens who made sacrifices to participate in the hearings.”

The College Sports Council brought a lawsuit against the Department of Education last year on behalf of male students whose sports programs were shelved by schools concerned about not meeting Title IX quotas the Clinton administration wrote into the 1972 law — a story that has become all too familiar in American higher education.

In the weeks since the commission went home, feminists have increasingly crowed about the prospect that that there would be any reform. A proposal to give schools a little leeway while conforming to Clinton-era quotas — proposed by a female athletic director, for the record — has been one of their favorite targets. Two members of the commission, Olympic gold medallists Donna de Varona (first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation) and Julie Foudy (current president of the Women’s Sports Foundation) issued a minority report instead of signing onto the main report. The Varona/Foudy/Women’s Sports Foundation bottom line: that Title IX “be preserved without change.”

The commission’s final report is far from radical. It certainly does not even come close to gutting Title IX, as cries from the likes of Geena Davis and Holly Hunter — celebs the feminists have trotted out in the last week to sell the “no change” message — suggest it does.

When Secretary Paige announced the establishment of the commission in June 2002, there was not a single person who knew anything about the debate over Title IX and high-school and college sports who could not predict that feminist groups would oppose even the most modest changes. And yet, after eight months of hearings and deliberations, the administration — whether orders are coming from within the Education Department or higher up — seems to be in defensive mode. Why? What’s the point? For those who believe that the president is out to limit opportunities for women, they are going to continue believing that lie — after all, the existence of the commission is already a documented part of Bush 43 administration history.

The bottom line for the administration is this: Lead, or let the feminists have their way. If you lead, you will earn the respect of some of the guys who have seen their teams cut because an originally well-intentioned law was let to run amuck. Neither the Women’s Sports Foundation, nor Thelma or Louise, are going to like you either way, so there’s no sense in pandering to them.


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