'Commission' takes closer look at Title IX
November 8, 2002, 5:00 am·
On June 27, 2002, the Department of Education established a Blue Ribbon Panel to discuss Title IX -- the amendment that governs gender equity in education.
This came after a consortium of coaches associations filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education claiming discriminatory procedures in Title IX last February.
Officially named The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, the 15-person panel has the responsibility to collect information about Title IX and to give a formal presentation to the Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, by Jan. 31, 2003.
A Dec. 4 meeting in Philadelphia will be one of the panel's final gatherings. Although a location for the event has yet to be announced, the general public is welcome to attend, but will not get the opportunity to speak in front of the panel.
Stanford Athletic Director, Ted Leland, and former WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper are co-chairing the committee throughout the five months of meetings. Athletic directors, educational specialists, former athletes, and members of women's interest groups make up the remainder of the panel.
But while they comprise some of the most influential members of athletic and educational communities in the United States, it is unclear whether the report of the panel will affect legislation in the future.
"Whenever there is a political hot button issue, it is shunted off to a commission," senior fellow of the Independent Women's Forum, Christine Stolba said.
"It is a good faith effort to keep the debate going -- at least the public can give input."
Despite being appointed by a government institution and having the support of President Bush, the panel does not have any power of its own. Many of the same arguments that the body is hearing now may need to be repeated, should the government pursue any change in Title IX.
"I'm not overly optimistic yet," President of the Marquette Wrestling Club, Jim Schmitz said about the panel. The club is one of the organizations that is included in the class-action suit against the Department of Education.
"It's a political hot potato, it's too hot for [Congress]to touch."
Acknowledging the purpose of the panel to be a fact-finding body, president of Penn State University and member of the 15-person body, Graham Spanier, suggested at the most recent meeting on Oct. 23 in Colorado Springs that the committee must produce more than just a collection of data. In addition, it has a duty to produce a conclusive idea about where the future of Title IX will lead.
"I hope wherever we end up on this, we come out with a strong statement that whatever changes are made should then result in stepped-up enforcement and a greater consistency of enforcement," Spanier said on Oct. 23, according to public record. "Because what we have now is a lot of people reacting to what they think.
"I hope that we would make a recommendation that there is a mandate to be much more serious about enforcement where it's going to really make a difference."
In addition to scheduled testimony, the panel has left openings for the general public to express opinions about the issues.
The main topics have included how to measure gender equity and whether gender equity has yet been achieved in its current form.
The Ivy League has had a significant effect on Title IX legislation in the past 10 years. Recently, the Yale Wrestling Club signed on to the lawsuit against the Department of Education.
But a major issue that has arisen in the Blue Ribbon Panel has been the Cohen v. Brown University lawsuit, first filed in 1992.
Brown dropped men's water polo, men's golf, women's volleyball and women's gymnastics as varsity sports in 1991. Following this, women from the two teams filed a lawsuit against Brown, claiming illegality in the demotion of the sports to club status.
While the university dropped sports representing both sexes, the court determined that Brown was not in compliance with Title IX because it had a 13-percent difference in the male-female proportionality of its athletic department compared to that of the university at large -- falling short of the required five percent. Brown also could not prove that it had a history of advancing opportunities for the underrepresented sex.
The Cohen v. Brown decision, which was later denied an appeal to the Supreme Court, is now one of the major precedents in Title IX legislation.
The Department of Education's Blue Ribbon Panel has heard much of the same testimony from similar sources over the course of its meetings.
The mere notion that the fact-finding committee exists raises public awareness about the issues of Title IX.
But the panel has the opportunity to do much more than simply hear the issues.
"We need to say what we think should happen. I don't think we've all been brought together to go through an idle exercise," Spanier said.
With the amount of information already compiled, anything less than a strong statement would be a wasted opportunity.
Today, The Daily Pennsylvanian completes its evaluation of the effects of Title IX on intercollegiate athletics after 30 years. The DP has focused on whether or not Title IX has accomplished its stated goals. It has also examined the reverse effects of Title IX on smaller, non-profitable men's sports. The DP has also looked at current attitudes in the government and pending legislation regarding the legality and fairness of Title IX.