Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1972. It bans any educational institution that receives federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex, and applies to all academic and extra-curricular programs. Title IX has been praised as the chief factor behind the advances made in gender equity in education over the past three decades. In addition, the significant advances of women in higher education and in the workplace since the 1970s have been attributed by some to Title IX. Despite all this, Title IX is most well known for the impact it has had on intercollegiate athletics. The scale of women's collegiate athletic programs has increased exponentially during the past four decades, principally as a result of Title IX.
Keywords College Athletics; Educational Institution; Equal Rights; Federal School Funding; Gender Equity; Nonrevenue Sports; Revenue Sports; School Sports; Sex-Based Discrimination; Three-Part Test; US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
Title IX has been called "the most controversial topic in college sports," and its legacy has likewise been called "a legacy of debate" (Suggs, 2002). A component of the 1972 Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title IX was designed to end discrimination on the basis of sex in education, just as Title IV of the original 1964 Civil Rights Act had been designed to end discrimination on the basis of race. While many claims have been made about the exact impact Title IX has had on gender equity in education, one result of Title IX is overwhelmingly clear: it began, and continues to fuel, a vigorous debate about funding for, participation in, and the purpose of intercollegiate athletics.
After the passage of Title IX, educational institutions accepted and applied the legislation to their academic programs without any resistance or debate (Suggs, 2002). Most college and secondary school athletic programs, however, virtually ignored Title IX until a series of Supreme Court decisions during the 1990s made it clear that lack of compliance left schools vulnerable to lawsuits with monetary-damage claims. Partly as a result of this threat of prosecution, educational institutions increased their efforts to comply with Title IX's athletic provisions throughout the 1990s (Anderson, Cheslock, & Ehrenberg, 2006, p. 227). These efforts persist, albeit not without continued controversy.
Over the first four decades of its existence, Title IX has garnered many vocal supporters and critics. The supporters praise Title IX for expanding women's educational opportunities and changing American culture's expectations of what women can achieve. The critics charge Title IX with discriminating against men, as efforts to comply with the legislation have led some institutions to eliminate men's teams in less widely popular sports such as wrestling and swimming. Despite these accusations, Title IX is legislation with which all educational institutions must comply.
The Political Climate Surrounding Title IX
During the late 1960s and the 1970s, the women's movement, what many refer to as the second wave of feminism, succeeded in focusing national attention on the sex-based inequalities that hampered American women's lives. One of the most deleterious of these inequalities was the earning gap between men and women. Although women had, by this time, become a vital part of the American workforce, female wage earners were rarely paid as much as their male peers. Women's organizations and advocacy groups asserted that this earnings gap could be traced back to sex-based inequalities in education. Women filed class action lawsuits against colleges, universities, and the US federal government, alleging that these institutions discriminated against women. All this encouraged Congress to focus on sexual discrimination in education and hold hearings on the subject in the summer of 1970 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001).
This was the political climate out of which Title IX was born. Hoping to build on the momentum gained by the special hearings a year before, Representative Edith Green made an unsuccessful attempt to add a ban on sex-based discrimination to the 1971 Education Amendments. The next year, in an attempt to derail the renewal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, conservative Southern congressmen added gender to the categories protected against discrimination. They hoped that the idea of equal opportunities for women would be distasteful enough to prevent the passage of the entire bill (Suggs, 2002). To their chagrin, the legislation was passed and Title IX became law.
Title IX prohibits any educational institution receiving federal funds from discriminating in any activity or program on the basis of sex. In all academic and extra-curricular fields except athletics, Title IX was adopted and applied with little or no controversy (Suggs, 2002). In contrast, decades passed before Title IX was effectively enforced in the field of athletics. When Title IX became law in 1972, most colleges simply did not have varsity sports teams for women. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), while approximately 170,000 men participated in college sports programs in 1972, just under 30,000 women also participated (Suggs, 2002). In the first few years after Title IX was passed, it was unclear what, if anything, colleges and universities would be required to do to remedy this situation. The first interpretation of how Title IX applies to intercollegiate athletics was not issued until 1975, with a delayed compliance date of 1978. These initial instructions were generally felt to be too vague, so a more comprehensive plan was issued by the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in 1979 (Anderson et al., 2006).
Enforcing Title IX
Although the 1979 plan included a three-part test to prove compliance with the portion of Title IX dealing with athletics, the test was ignored throughout most of the 1980s. The Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush administrations put a low priority on enforcing Title IX, and as a result, educational programs felt no real need to comply with the law (Anderson et al., 2006). When, in 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that Title IX was only applicable to the specific programs that directly received federal aid, athletic programs became legally exempt from compliance (Suggs, 2002). This situation lasted until 1988, when Congress, overriding a veto by President Reagan, enacted the Civil Rights Restoration Act. This law restored the broad interpretation of Title IX, in which Title IX applied to all programs or activities at institutions that received federal funds, whether or not a program was a direct recipient of these funds (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001).
Efforts on the part of collegiate athletic programs to enforce Title IX increased throughout the 1990s for several reasons. The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing Title IX, and does so on a complaint-driven basis (Barnett, 2003). Until students started reporting discrimination, and doing so in such a way that threatened more than just inconvenience for educational institutions, Title IX would not be enforced. This process of upping the stakes of Title IX compliance began in 1992 when the Supreme Court ruled in Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools that the plaintiff in a Title IX lawsuit was entitled to monetary damages as long as the discrimination was intentional. In 1996, Cohen v. Brown University contributed to the increasing wariness on the part of colleges and universities of Title IX lawsuits. In this case, the Supreme Court held that Brown University was obliged to "adhere to strict criteria for demonstrating gender equity in intercollegiate athletics" (Anderson, et al., 2006, p. 228). This decision was particularly startling because Brown already had more women's sports teams than any other university besides Harvard. The decision convinced schools that until they were in strict compliance with Title IX, they would be vulnerable to lawsuits. Another factor that helped plaintiffs in such lawsuits was the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which Congress passed in 1994. This law mandated that institutions give free access to data about their men's and women's athletics programs. Access to this data helped the federal government more easily gauge compliance with Title IX. Finally, unlike its predecessors, the Clinton administration made enforcing Title IX a priority (Anderson et al., 2006).
Currently, educational institutions are generally committed to enforcing Title IX in their educational programs. Compliance, however, is not always easy. Much controversy has been caused in recent years by schools who have decided to eliminate men's sports teams, especially wrestling teams, in order to attain compliance with Title IX.
Content of Title IX
According to the US Department of Education, Title IX "is designed to eliminate (with certain exceptions) discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance" (Office for Civil Rights, 1980, p. 375). This essentially means that institutions must provide students with academic and extra-curricular opportunities on a "gender-neutral basis" (Anderson et al., 2005, p. 225). While Title IX is most well-known in relation to college athletics, the legislation is applicable to myriad other...
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