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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Friday, January 24, 2003
12:16 AM

Graf No. 1, Meet Graf No. 2... Here's a Title IX story in Friday's Post by Michael Fletcher:

Colleges and universities would be allowed to limit the number of scholarships awarded to female athletes without regard to enrollment under the most controversial recommendation being considered by a national commission studying reform of Title IX, the landmark law that bans sex discrimination in collegiate sports.

This is a very clever way of saying schools wouldn't have to follow a quota, but let that rest for a moment. Second graf:

Under the proposal, which is among two dozen the panel is studying, schools could devote as little as 43 percent of their athletic scholarships to women and still comply with the law -- even though women comprise 55 percent of the enrollment in the nation's four-year colleges.

So. When you say schools could limit athletic scholarships to women without regard to enrollment, you mean, "As long as the scholarships equal at least 43% of enrollment."

The story adds breathlessly that "The proposals, obtained by The Washington Post, are the first indication of the Bush administration's plans for changing Title IX." No. The ideas they're talking about were evident at least as early as Dec. 5, when I blogged stories in USA Today and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Friday's story continues:

Since its passage in 1972, Title IX has never included any fixed numerical limits. Instead, schools comply with the law by ensuring that the percentage of male and female athletes is about equal to the ratio of men and women enrolled. They also can comply by demonstrating a history of expanding sports opportunities for women.

This falsifies history, as I blogged endlessly last summer with the help of Jessica Gavora's Tilting the Playing Field. The "three-pronged test" in theory gave schools three ways to satisfy the law; in practice, your sports have to mirror your enrollment.

Here's an interesting idea:

An alternative recommendation being considered by the 15-member commission, co-chaired by former Women's National Basketball Association star Cynthia Cooper and Stanford University Athletic Director Ted Leland, would require schools to conduct regular surveys of female and male students' interest in competing in sports. Athletic opportunities would be pegged to the survey results. That idea also has drawn sharp opposition.

Because....women might not want what I want them to want.

"What interest surveys tend to reflect is the amount of past discrimination, not the interest that would be manifested if women had been given more opportunities in the past," [Jocelyn] Samuels said. "It is somewhat akin to saying women should be given the right to vote only if they were asked and said they wanted it."

Memo to Samuels: They were asked and said they wanted it.

The story is weighted toward those who want to maintain the current system. But it's not a complete loss. For example, it quotes Carol Zaleski, a figure in competitive swimming:

"The unfortunate truth is that Title IX has evolved into something never intended," Carol Zaleski, former head of USA Swimming, told the panel during hearings in Colorado Springs last year. "The act was intended to expand opportunity. . .the evolved enforcement has turned it into a quota program. Title IX is a good law with bad interpretation."

I give the story maybe a 65-35 Fair and Balanced rating. Two big problems: First, there are no direct, current quotes from those seeking more sweeping changes. We have Zaleski from last year and the National Wrestling Coaches Association lawsuit, also from last year. This suggests the the commission's deliberations were leaked by someone within it who supports the status quo, which explains why quotes from allies like the National Women's Law Center's Jocelyn Samuels are so fresh.

Second, there's misleading or false background info, which probably stems from the source of the leak. Another example:

But supporters of the law say critics blame it for problems it did not cause. ...they say an estimated two-thirds of the schools that comply with Title IX do so not by showing that they have a proportionate share of female athletes, but by demonstrating that they have increased opportunities for women.

As Jessica Gavora explained, Title IX is always a work in progress, and a school can never rest until the quota is fulfilled. You can keep the lawyers away this year if you increased opportunities for women last year. But you have to keep doing that until you meet the One-Pronged Test: Proportionality.

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