- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) Supporters of the status quo for Title IX were dealt a setback yesterday when a Bush administration commission issued procedures that stated its final report "will not include minority views." Commissioner Donna de Varona said the procedures are "tantamount to a gag order."

The Education Department's 15-member Commission on Opportunity in Athletics will debate and vote on as many as 24 recommendations during public meetings today and tomorrow. Several commissioners have said they expect the panel will vote to weaken the 31-year-old gender equity law that greatly increased female participation in sports.

De Varona, a two-time Olympic champion swimmer, is among a minority of commissioners who would like to see Title IX's rules remain essentially intact. She echoed sentiments expressed by several women's groups that the makeup of the commission was stacked in favor of Division I schools who would like to see the rules relaxed.

"We consider that this is tantamount to a gag order," de Varona said. "We want a minority report. …

"Regardless of the what the findings are, we should have been allowed to include a minority opinion or expression. That's the American way."

The list of procedures, obtained by he Associated Press, said minority views will not be included "in fairness to the commissioners who have worked hard to achieve consensus," but that opposition views will be reflected in the transcript of the meetings.

"They can vote against a particular recommendation," Education Department deputy press secretary Susan Aspey said. "They can speak out against a particular recommendation, and their opposition will be noted for the permanent record."

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. Critics say the law has punished male athletes to provide more opportunities for women.

Earlier yesterday, Donna Lopiano, Women's Sports Foundation executive director, said at a news conference she is concerned that changes would erode gains made by women.

"To suggest that it's OK for a federal law to allow women to be treated in a manner that is inferior to men is unfathomable in this day and age," she said.

Commissioner Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. national women's soccer team, said she feels her fellow commissioners want to tinker with the Title IX rule that says a school's male-female athlete ratio should be "substantially proportionate" to the male-female enrollment.

Foudy is concerned about a proposal by fellow commissioner Debbie Yow, athletic director of the University of Maryland. The proposal would allow schools to have a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the makeup of the student body, with a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points.

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