Coming right off of March Madness, the Bush Administration has launched its latest assault on Title IX, the law that ensures equal opportunities for men and women in schools that receive federal funds.
Recently, the Education Department issued rules that will allow colleges to use email surveys to determine interest among young women in playing sports. “Schools will be considered in compliance with Title IX legislation if survey responses suggest there is insufficient interest among women students to support a particular sport,” the Washington Postreported. Such changes to Title IX “will likely reverse the growth of women’s athletics and could damage the progress made over the last three decades,” NCAA President Myles Brand has said.
I’m the proud mother of a thirteen year old basketball player, who’s been the shooting guard for the last few years on her school team. Her dream is to make varsity this fall. She reads the sports section every morning. She knows stats I’ve never heard of, has watched the entire NCAA season and catches every NBA and WNBA game she can.
Millions of young women have reaped enormous benefits since Title IX was launched. The number of women playing high school sports increased in 2001 to almost 2.8 million, up from 294,000 in 1972. Over the same time colleges witnessed an almost five-fold increase in the number of women playing sports. Title IX has achieved “an explosion of female Olympic stars, college and professional women’s teams playing to packed stadiums, new magazines aimed at female athletes But most of all the freedom, strength and joy of a whole generation of young women,” journalist Ruth Conniff pointed out in 1997–in a special Sports issue of The Nation (yes, check it out!).
Jocelyn Samuels, the Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center, pointed to the larger issue that “there have been attacks on Title IX since its inception in 1972, but the Congress has rejected those attacks and the courts have rejected these attacks, and every Administration until the present one has upheld Title IX.”
In the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bush told reporters that he “opposed quotas or strict proportionality” in school sports, taking a veiled swipe at Title IX. In Jan., 2002, his true agenda emerged when the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) filed Slip-Sliding Away,” its illuminating study of gender policy. Instead of claiming that Title IX is a “fair and flexible” policy, government lawyers argued that the schools must remedy discrimination, not the Department of Education.
Next up, the Administration signaled to its “supporters that they were not abandoning them,” Samuels said, when in mid-2002 the Department of Education established the poorly-titled, “Commission on Opportunity in Athletics.” Writing in USA Today magazine, Asst. Professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law “Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who won three gold and one silver medal in the 1984 Olympics swimming competition, pointed out that Bush’s Commission was “hand-picked, weighted heavily against Title IX,” and that its purpose was “to eviscerate Title IX’s interpretive regulations via an end-run around the courts, congress and the will of the people.”
Adding weight to Hogshead-Makar’s charges, the commission’s final report recommended drastic changes to Title IX including harmful proposals that schools be allowed to use private donors to fund men’s teams; “artificially inflate the percentage of athletic opportunities they give to women,” and send bogus “interest surveys” to students to determine interest levels in sports among female students, as the commissioners Julie Foudy and Donna de Varona argued in their brave minority report–a document that then-Education Secretary Rod Paige declined to enter into the public record.
Fortunately, the Administration was forced to backtrack amid a din of public outrage, and the Education Department sent a letter to our nation’s schools reaffirming the mechanisms for enforcing Title IX as settled law. That happened in 2003. Fast forward to March 2005. Bush has secured a second term, the NCAA tournament was underway, and the Administration dropped its bombshell on a late Friday afternoon “with little fanfare–now schools could evade compliance with Title IX by using bogus email surveys.”
There’s an irony here: George W. Bush is a sports nut. He has appeared on the cover of Runner’s World, is a former owner of the Texas Rangers and he lifts weights and bikes in a gym. Adding to the irony, First Lady Laura Bush recently returned from her trip to Afghanistan highlighting the drive to secure womens’ rights in that long-suffering nation.
Apparently, real-life experiences are no match for the anti-democratic ideology that has dominated policy decisions in the Bush White House. Title IX, a cornerstone of the struggle for gender equality, must be defended.