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Senate Committee Marks the 30th Anniversary of Title IX

Marking the 30th anniversary of Title IX, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a June 27 hearing to discuss the implementation and the progress of landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination in all schools and institutions across the country. Cosponsored by former Rep. Edith Green (D-OR) and Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI), the legislation languished in a House-Senate conference committee for several months, while negotiators worked out 250 differences between the House and Senate education bills, 11 of which were gender-related. President Nixon signed it into law on June 23, 1972.

At the hearing, Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-MA) hailed the success of Title IX. “In 1972, women comprised only 2 percent of varsity sports. Today, over 150,000 women participate in college sports,” he said. “Over the past 30 years, America has changed for the better,” he continued, and added, “I hope the Administration doesn’t try to fix what is not broken.”

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) also praised Title IX. “As a former wrestler, I hate seeing what is happening to wrestling, and I know how important wrestling has been in my life,” he said. “But I don’t think that pitting wrestling against women’s sports is the answer,” he advised. He was referring to a lawsuit, filed in January by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) against the Department of Education, charging that Title IX harms men’s teams.

“The purpose of Title IX is to provide for women of America what is rightfully theirs,” stated Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “In addition to the sports benefits, Title IX promotes good health and provides young women with the leadership skills that they need,” she said.

All of the witnesses at the hearing agreed that Title IX has been a successful and an essential program that levels the playing field for women in athletic and academic endeavors.

Secretary of Education Roderick Paige called Title IX “one of the most important civil rights laws in our nation’s history.” In 1972, “it was not uncommon for high school girls to be steered to courses that narrowed their future growth,” he said. “High schools routinely excluded girls from classes that stood to give them the skills to compete for higher paying jobs,” he added.

Secretary Paige also cited statistics that show “the explosive growth in girl’s and women’s sports.” In 1971, before Title IX, “more than 294,000 girls participated in high school sports,” he said. “Last year, that number exceeded 2.7 million, an 847 percent increase,” he pointed out. “In 1972, only 9 percent of medical degrees went to women, as compared to nearly 43 percent in 2000. In 1972, only 1 percent of medical degrees went to women, as compared to 40 percent in 2000, and in 1972 only 7 percent of law degrees went to women, as compared to nearly 46 percent in 2000,” he added.

Additionally, he announced the creation of a blue-ribbon panel charged with reevaluating Title IX. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics includes Donna DeVarona, a former Olympic gold medalist in swimming, and Julie Foudy, captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team. Former Women’s National Basketball Association star, Cynthia Cooper, will be the chair. “Do you expect the commission to recommend changes?” asked Sen. Kennedy. “Will you adopt their recommendations?”

“We will have an open discussion of all the issues,” replied Secretary Paige.

Sen. Kennedy also asked about the lawsuit filed by the NWCA.

Secretary Paige responded, “The case by the wrestling coaches is very weak.” He also told the committee that he and the President are committed “to expanding opportunities for all young Americans, girls and boys, women and men, in the classroom and on the playing field.”

Former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) was a chief sponsor of Title IX and called the law “one of the most significant contributions to equality for women since the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.” He also said that, despite the successes, Title IX “is under serious attack.”

“Opponents declare that Title IX requires ‘quotas’ for women, particularly in athletics,” he said. “President Bush, Secretary of Education Paige, …have made this assertion,” he contended. “Some editorials describe supporters of Title IX as ‘zealots who threaten any college or university that fails to conform to their notions of gender and racial equality,’” he continued.

The former Senator said he attributed this opposition to “a lack of knowledge concerning what Title IX does and does not do.” He explained that “nothing in Title IX requires quotas, as each of the eight federal courts of appeals that has considered the issue has held.”

“Much of the recent furor is due to the misperception that Title IX forces schools to terminate men’s teams, like wrestling,” he stated. “It’s not female athletes who are crowding out wrestlers; it’s the more popular men’s programs that continue to dominate sports budgets, leaving women’s and other men’s teams with only a small share of the pie,” he said.

Sen. Bayh told the committee that, despite the progress, “Title IX’s mission is far from complete.” He said that “hundreds of schools fail to provide women with their fair share of athletic scholarships,” and that, “tragically, the attacks on Title IX divert attention from the law’s dramatic improvement in academic opportunities for women students.”

Nancy Hogshead-Makar of the Florida Coastal School of Law told the committee that Title IX has had a positive impact on her life. She was a swimmer who “earned a full athletic scholarship to Duke University.” That scholarship “kept me in swimming beyond my high school days, and I went on to become an Olympic champion at what was then considered the practically geriatric age of 22,” she said.

She called assertions that “women are not interested in sports” a myth. “I find this assertion to be not only dangerously stereotypical and flawed, but also insulting to all women,” she stated. “Thirty years ago, when just one out of every 27 high school girls played a sport, girls heard the same argument,” she said. “Today, one out of every 2.5 high school girls plays a sport,” she added.

Ms. Hogshead-Makar also addressed charges that Title IX is diminishing men’s athletics. “Men’s sports participation in high school and college has increased since the law’s inception 30 years ago,” she argued. “Schools themselves report that when they are deciding to add or discontinue a men’s or women’s team, the level of student interest in the particular sport was the most often cited factor.” She also emphasized, “More important, two-thirds of the schools that have added women’s sports to comply with Title IX did not eliminate any men’s sports.”

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