Title IX Critics Pleased with Panel's Findings

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Opponents of Title IX, the law banning sexual discrimination in education, had a tempered but optimistic reaction Thursday to several recommendations adopted by a commission studying the law's impact on college athletics. The recommendations will be passed on to the Bush administration.

The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, D.C., proposed minor changes to Title IX, opting to tinker with the law rather than overhaul it.

Critics of the 30-year-old statute scored a victory when the commission adopted a plan to let schools survey students about their interest in athletics as one way to show compliance with Title IX.

Although Title IX applies to all aspects of education, the commission was made up mostly of athletic directors, athletes and others involved in college sports. The mere discussion of Title IX, as well as the panel's composition, was debated nearly as much as the proposed changes.

The most contentious proposals before the commission involved Title IX's proportionality requirement. University of Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow had advanced a plan that would have attempted to equally divide athletic opportunities between men and women, but would have also allowed variations on the formula.

Neither Title IX critics nor proponents supported the measure, which failed in a 7-7 tie vote. The language of the recommendation will still be included in the final report to Education Secretary Rod Paige as a result of the tie.

Yow's plan drew criticism from women's group and other Title IX supporters because it would have given schools a 5 percent to 7 percent variance to fall within the 50 percent participation threshold. She later amended her plan to allow for 2 percent to 3 percent flexibility, but it also failed.

Afterward, National Wrestling Coaches Association executive director Michael W. Moyer said the proposal was tantamount to the quotas he would like to see eliminated from Title IX. Moyer's organization is suing the government, claiming Title IX hurts small men's sports like wrestling.

"Although the three percent variance would have created more flexibility, it's still a quota," Moyer said. "Quotas don't belong in the interpretation of Title IX. They're not legal, they're unfair and they're un-American."

On the other side of the debate, Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said it was preposterous for schools to be allowed to offer women as low as 43 percent of all athletic opportunities.

"To say the interest is not there is really bogus," she said. "There are 2.7 million women in varsity high school athletics, yet there are only 200,000 opportunities for them in college."

Gandy credited Title IX for the vast increases in women's sports since it became law in 1972. But she said much work remains, since women make up 42 percent of college athletes and nearly 56 percent of total enrollment.

She also lashed out at the commission's proposal to survey students as a means of complying with Title IX. Such methodology would be flawed, she warned, since more male students are recruited.

Supporters of the survey, including Independent Women's Forum senior fellow Melana Zyla Vickers, said it would offer colleges more options and better account for the actual interest in athletics.

Now that the commission has concluded its study and voted on its recommendations, Paige and Bush administration officials will make the final call about what changes to adopt.

Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said a coalition of women's groups is planning to take its concerns to the White House. Gandy added that the recommendations are not binding, and therefore can be disregarded.

Burk, who recently stirred up the debate over the Augusta National Golf Club's membership policy, said many of the commission's findings were not surprising. Title IX proponents have accused President Bush of stacking the panel with critics of the law.

"This was an ill-conceived commission in the first place," Burk said. "It never should have been formed. The way it was constructed was designed to get biased votes and that's what came out of it."

Moyer said even though the commission did not endorse some of the proposals his group supports, progress was made by raising questions about the true intent of Title IX.

"The last two days, all we've heard about is the need for change," he said. "There's differing opinion on what should be changed and how many things should be changed. But, everyone clearly recognizes, there needs to be a change."

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