The Bush administration announced yesterday that colleges and universities no longer must prove “substantially proportionate” participation of men and women in sports programs as the main way to comply with the federal Title IX sex-discrimination ban.
The ruling bowed to wishes of many college presidents, coaches and athletic groups who asked the administration to move away from quotas governing intercollegiate sports.
In a letter to college presidents and other officials yesterday, the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights abandoned a 1996 Clinton administration ruling that “proportionality” — equal numbers of men and women in college sports programs — was the most important component of a three-part test for compliance with Title IX.
Two other tests include a college’s history of expanding sports programs so men and women have equal opportunity to participate, and whether the programs have “fully and effectively accommodated” the interests and abilities of all students.
“If [colleges and universities] think we have our thumbs on the scale, … we need to clear up that misperception,” Gerald Reynolds, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights told reporters in a telephone news conference.
Under the new ruling, there will be “no numerical standard,” Mr. Reynolds said. Whether or not college sports programs discriminate against men or women will be determined by “particularized facts” on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“There’s a diverse array of schools out there,” said Brian Jones, the department’s general counsel. “Schools may not, as a practical matter, be able to meet the proportionality prong, not because of a discriminatory animus, but as a matter of demographics. They just may not be able to get there.”
One problem cited for many schools, particularly community colleges, is the large number of older men and women — referred to as “nontraditional” students — who are going back to get their degrees after their children have grown and left home, but have no interest in playing intercollegiate sports with 20-year-olds.
Critics said inclusion of older students who were uninterested in playing sports improperly skewed the proportionality test, which has required elimination of numerous men’s programs to accommodate financing of programs for women.
“There are many men’s wrestling, gymnastics, swimming teams that have gone away,” said Bob Bowlsby, the University of Iowa’s athletics director for 12 seasons, at a Title IX review commission appointed last June by Education Secretary Rod Paige. “No one anywhere is adding men’s teams.”
Because of changing demographics, colleges can conduct student surveys to determine interest in athletics and use the results to prove compliance with Title IX if the sexes are disproportionately represented in sports programs, Mr. Jones said.
The change, accompanied with an administration pledge to continue strict enforcement of Title IX, was applauded by a leading feminist group.
“The National Women’s Law Center welcomes the Department of Education’s strong reconfirmation of current Title IX athletics policies,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, the center’s co-president.
“This action comes after a yearlong review of Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination in education, but is best known for creating an explosion in women’s and girls’ sports,” she said. “This is a huge victory for women and girls everywhere — and the men and boys who care about them. We are relieved that the Department of Education heard and heeded the millions of voices in support of Title IX.”