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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tweaking Title IX

Title IX is a piece of federal legislation designed to promote gender equality in education. Since its passage in 1972, the law has had a major impact on women in higher education; indeed, the fact that female students comprise a majority of the undergraduate population of American colleges and universities suggests that Title IX has been a success. Few people today complain about the law's intentions or its effects. One area where there have been some complaints, though, is in the area of college athletics.

Since Title IX bans gender discrimination in any educational institution that receives federal funding (which is pretty much all of them), colleges must ensure that women are proportionally represented in all aspects of campus life. What this means in practice for college athletics is that, if the student body is, say, 50% female, then females should make up about 50% of the participants in athletic programs. Many colleges, though, have difficulty reaching this level.

In the past, colleges have often eliminated smaller men's athletic programs in order to get closer to the Title IX ideal, eliminating programs being considerably cheaper than increasing the number of women's sports. Lately, though, some colleges have gotten creative. Some "double count" atheletes; for example, a cross-country runner ma7y be listed as a member of both the track and field and cross-country teams, thus earning the college double credit for one athlete. Some offer roster spots to underqualified athletes, who may never actually appear in competitions. And at Cornell, they count members of the women's fencing team's practice squad--which doesn't sound all that egregious until you find out that some of these practice-squad members are, um, men.

We suppose that's one way to meet women.

Now, seriously, we have absolutely no problem with the idea of gender equity in higher education in general or in college athletics in particular. If women want to participate in sports, more power to 'em. But if, in order to comply with federal regulations, Cornell and other colleges have to offer spots on the practice squads of women's teams to men, doesn't this suggest that there are just not that many women interested in that particular sport at that particular college?
Does it make sense essentially to force a school to undertake statistical tomfoolery simply to comply with a federal mandate that, in this case at least, is only being "violated" due to lack of interest among the people the law is intended to protect?

"College Teams, Relying on Deception, Undermine Gender Equity" . . . Hmmm, that's a rather loaded headline, no?

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