Title IX Turns 40 In the Face Of Applause And Criticism

As supporters are quick to note, Title IX has not only increased equality in athletic participation, but has also narrowed the achievement gap and inequity in many other academic arenas.

By Gwen Fishel

Title IX, the landmark legislation that mandated equal federal funding of educational programs for both girls and boys championed in 1972 by Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), turns 40-years-old on Saturday.

The simple law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “Title IX gives women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in education institutions that receive federal funds…,” and 82% of voters, including those across the entire political spectrum and those who do and do not have children, support it.

The Foundation firmly believes that Title IX is still necessary, citing the increasing gap between the number of men and women who participate in high school athletic programs, extending into higher education as well. Women receive less money in NCAA athletic scholarships than men, and also have “fewer opportunities at NCAA institutions.”

As supporters are quick to note, Title IX has not only increased equality in athletic participation, but has also narrowed the achievement gap and inequity in many other academic arenas.

“Title IX matters. And it is just as important today as when it was first passed forty years ago… From addressing inequality in math and science education, to ensuring dormitories are safe, to preventing sexual assault on campus, to daily funding athletic programs, Title IX ensures equality for our young people in ever aspect of their education,” Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, wrote on the White House blog.

On June 20, the White House celebrated the anniversary of Title IX with a celebration sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls, which President Barack Obama commissioned in 2009. Members of the Girl Scouts, numerous women affected by the Title IX legislation such as astronaut Mae Jemison and Olympian Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley were all in attendance.

The White House has vocally addressed its commitment to gender equality through its policy choices over the last three years. According to the White House, “Since coming into office, President Obama and his Administration have worked to advance Title IX compliance to ensure that all individuals enjoy the equality of opportunity that the law provides. The Administration continuously strives to provide guidance and support to state and local governments and educational institutions to bolster equal access to educational opportunities in a full range of academic subjects, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); equal resources in athletic pursuits; and an academic environment free of sex-based discrimination, including sexual harassment and violence.  With this celebration of 40 years of successes under Title IX, the President reaffirms his commitment to further advancing a new era of equal opportunity and gender equity for generations to come.”

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the Department of Education has announced that it will work with colleges and universities to work on improving Title IX compliance, will “revise Title IX Technical Assistance to K-12 and post secondary institutions to explicitly address STEM,” and will use new data collection techniques to increase “gender-based academic analyses.”

The Administration has also worked to create more opportunity and access for women in STEM and athletic programs, end and prevent sexual harassment and violence on college campuses, ensure women’s academic success, “integrat[e] Title IX into broader women focused efforts,” and increased Title IX compliance.

However, not all lawmakers, institutions and voters are in support of Title IX.

Opponents of Title IX in recent years have argued that it discriminates against men by detracting from men’s sports.

Among the numerous sports groups who oppose certain interpretations of Title IX,  the College Sports Council, now the American Sports Council (ASC), took the position in 2007 that Title IX discriminates against men in sports. Then-CSC executive director and current ASC chairman Eric Pearson said, “Unfortunately, the way the law is regulated, it permits discrimination against men. Title IX says you cannot discriminate based on gender, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”

Author and screenwriter John Irving, in a 2003 op-ed for The New York Times, argued that smaller men’s sports such as wrestling are particularly affected by the Title IX “proportionality clause,” wherein, Irving stated, “Title IX, the original legislation, was conceived as a fairness-for-all law; it has been reinvented as a tool to treat men unfairly.”

Other opponents include former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R- Ill.), who argued that while women were making gains in athletics, men were losing.

In a letter from Hastert to his constituents, he said that regardless of his overall support for Title IX, he was “concerned about some of the unintended consequences of the regulations promulgated by the Department of Education that enforce Title IX; especially those regulations that result in ‘athletic quotas’ at universities. Specifically, I am concerned that enforcement of Title IX has resulted in less, not more, participation in athletics.”

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