Politics & Policy

Happy Birthday, Title Ix

The Bush administration has provided a real reason to celebrate.

Put this week’s celebration of Title IX–the federal law intended to prevent discrimination based on sex on college campuses–in the “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” category. Instead of simply acknowledging the 33rd anniversary of the creation of the law, prominent Democrats used the occasion to bellyache about new regulations that clarify how schools and universities can comply with Title IX.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi were among the liberal worthies at a press conference on how the Bush administration is denying athletic opportunities to women. These political luminaries were joined by female athletes, including 1996 Olympic gold-medal gymnast Dominique Dawes and 1984 Olympic gold medal hurdler Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, who spoke about the importance of Title IX in protecting their sisters in sport.

Yet the administration’s recent actions on Title IX hardly constitute an assault on female athletes. In March, the Department of Education merely issued guidelines explaining how schools can assess student interest in athletics to demonstrate that are they are accommodating the interests of the underrepresented sex.

Fulfilling student interest was always supposed to be one way to comply with Title IX. But given the threat of costly legislation, few universities have been willing to risk relying on compliance through such an inherently subjective measure.

The only foolproof way for colleges and universities to avoid lawsuits was to make their athletic rosters “proportional” to overall enrollment. Since women account for about 56 percent of undergraduates on the average campus, women must make up more than half of all athletes if school administrators are to sleep soundly at night.

There are two ways to make the math work. First, schools can try to lure more women into sports by creating new teams for them. Some schools have successfully increased female participation in this manner, but others have fought an uphill battle. In 1992, for example, when Brown University was sued under Title IX, there were 85 unfilled spots on women’s varsity teams.

The second way of meeting the quota is more certain: eliminate men’s teams. Scrapping men’s sports works every time and costs nothing, and so many universities across the country have taken this route. Even schools at which men’s athletics were training grounds for Olympic champions have shut down their programs. In total, universities have eliminated more than 200 male track teams, 120 wrestling teams, and nearly 90 male gymnastics teams, leaving just 20 schools with gymnastic programs for men.

The only winners from cutting men’s teams are radical gender ideologues fixated on mathematical parity between men and women. It certainly isn’t a victory for female athletes. Many college women who had run track or swum with their male counterparts were saddened to see those teams killed. Anyone who loves sport for both genders should desperately want an alternative to the perverse Title IX quota system.

The Bush administration’s regulatory clarification means that schools now have the option of surveying their students to assess interest in athletic participation. Different responses between genders can now serve as a basis for explaining different levels of participation in athletics. Opponents of this sensible procedure caricature it by saying that all a university must do is send one email to students and, bingo, Title IX compliance. In reality, the Department of Education details a rigorous process that encourages maximum participation, such as making participation in the survey a part of the registration process or following up initial requests with phone calls or additional email inquiries.

Hostility toward reform is likely based on fear of what an honest assessment may find: that more men are drawn to sports than women. And indeed, evidence that men have a greater interest in athletics abounds. Men’s participation in intramural leagues on college campuses dwarfs women’s; men spend more time watching sports; men spend more money on sports; and male athletes are more willing to sit on benches as second stringers than female athletes, who often quit when not regularly played.

The feminists and left-wing politicians who sing the praises of Title IX don’t want to face these facts. They envision a world in which men and women act the same and are equally represented in all walks of life. But that’s not how actual men and women behave. These social engineers want government to force that outcome anyway.

The Bush administration has taken a politically difficult step by giving colleges and universities a greater understanding of how they can comply with Title IX without cutting male teams. That’s the real reason to celebrate Title IX’s anniversary this year.

Carrie Lukas is the director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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