Q&A: Do We Still Need Title IX

On June 23, 1972 Congress enacted Title IX, a sweeping educational reform that ordered equal educational opportunity for men and women and fundamentally altered the landscape of America’s schools. Now formally known, after its principal author, as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, Title IX, promised equal opportunities to men and women in all areas of the public education system: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." While the law was a breakthrough for women's rights, a new debate today asks whether, 35 years later, we still need Title IX. NEWSWEEK's Alexandra Gekas spoke with Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center about why she thinks Title IX is still necessary. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why is Title IX still important, 35 years after its inception?
Marcia D. Greenberger:
First of all, there's still a lot of discrimination against women, plain and simple, in all areas of education, including athletics where the discrimination is the most overt and the least subtle. We also need Title IX to make sure we don't slide back and lose progress and the third reason we need it is because it is a statement in our law about what's best for this country and our promise to the next generation that equality of opportunity is something that this country stands for.

Do you still think there is gender discrimination in our public school system?
By every measure, it's clear that there is still discrimination going on. The National Law Center just released several reports that confirm that discrimination is still ongoing. There are statistics that show nationwide that women are still getting second-class treatment in athletics. There are court cases and complaints all over the country that highlight unfair treatment toward women by schools in the area of athletics.

What kind of reaction do you get from people in regards to Title IX?
There was a poll that was done by the Mellman Group, which shows major public support for Title IX. Also, 22 percent of survey respondents report that they were personally aware of recent situations where girl's teams where treated worse than boy's teams. That is people talking about the fact that they themselves know about situations where girls teams are not treated as well as boys teams. Another measure concretely showing how much discrimination there still is, since obviously complaints are just the tip of the iceberg, is that we know nationwide that in high schools only 41 percent of high school athletes are girls.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they are offering less opportunities to women. Isn’t it possible that the girls who want to play sports only make up 41 percent of student athletes?
Schools decide which teams they will offer, how many teams they will offer, how many slots on the teams they will make available, so the schools are deciding how many opportunities they will make available. In addition, once the school does provide an opportunity to play, the second question under Title IX is are they treating the male and female athletic teams in a non-discriminatory way? Our reports show that many complaints have been filed about discriminatory treatment: second class fields, less coaching support, more inconvenient practice times, inferior uniforms, more travel, less scholarships. So the problems are not only in the opportunities that are made available and the number of girls who could play but don't get a chance, but also as our reports demonstrate even the girls who are given the chance to play, many of them are not given the quality support that their male counterparts receive.

Is it common, then, that men’s sports are cut back instead of women’s sports being added to balance the number of male to female athletes?
The General Accounting Office did a study a few years ago and found that over 70 percent of schools added opportunities for women and did not cut back on any opportunities for men. This shows that in truth Title IX has operated by expanding opportunities not retracting them. It's also true that Title IX does not provide for women's sports or men’s sports a guarantee that a school has to keep those sports forever, so there have been teams, like wrestling, that have been cut over the years. But it’s also true that other teams like baseball, lacrosse, basketball, football, etc. have exploded in opportunities over the year. So some men's teams have taken a serious hit, that's been true, but it’s the same with some women's sports as support and popularity has changed. Wrestling is just not as popular a sport as it used to be.

Critics of Title IX argue that to balance out the number of male to female athletes, schools have had to cut the men's sports because not enough women want to play. Wouldn't that be unfair to men?
There are close to three million female athletes in high school and only about 170,000 opportunities for women to play sports in colleges and universities. So going back to the point about providing opportunities to play, when the pool was three million of high school athletes, winnowing that down to 170,000 spots there are clearly more people who would play if they had the opportunity to play and although that is clearly true for male athletes too, it is just as true for female athletes. But still, although it's not common, according to the General Accounting Office study, there's also no question that sometimes men's sports are being cut. I don't think there is any question that unfortunately there is a lot of pressure on schools and some schools have chosen to cut sports on account of financial pressures, but at the same time what we've seen is an arms race, pouring an enormous amount of money into certain teams and cutting back on other teams to enhance on the athletic opportunities for football players, for example and putting more and more money into multimillion dollar coaches salaries and extraordinary offices and state-of-the-art facilities. That's not Title IX telling schools they need to invest their athletic dollars that way, that's schools deciding what their own priorities are.  Some schools seem to think it's a lot easier to tell a male athlete that they are cutting a team because of Title IX than because they want to spend more money on football and basketball.

What, if anything do you think needs to be changed about Title IX?
The biggest improvement for Title IX is to make sure it is enforced, that all of those people who know about unfair treatment to girls teams have a way of correcting it and that the government itself steps up to the plate.  Something else that the National Women's Law Center is doing is to set up a new Web site, airplaynow.org, which provides information to parents and teachers and coaches and schools on how to improve and what to do to make sure that Title IX’s promise is actually realized.

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