Running the Title IX Numbers at Cuesta College

Over at SanLuisObispo.com, I found news that the a Title IX complaint against Cuesta College has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The complaint comes after the California school dropped women’s tennis at the end of the 2008-09 academic year.

The elimination of the program came in the midst of a raft of budget cuts at the school. According to reports, the move saved the school $30,000, but it ought to be clear by now that the decision to drop the program may very well wind up costing the school a lot more than that.

But there’s one thing that’s different about the Cuesta complaint. The following comes from a January 19, 2010 article from SanLuisObispo.com:

(Diane) Milutinovich and (Mike) Napoli say Cuesta’s move to drop a women’s tennis program from a department that they allege wasalready proportionally underrepresenting women showed blatant disregard by the college for Title IX.

At the center of the complaints is Cuesta’s admission of not having a Title IX compliance coordinator, a position that is required by law to receive federal funding.

It’s a Title IX coordinator’s duty to field internal complaints about violations, and Napoli did not have one to appeal to. It’s a situation Milutinovich, who spent 27 years as a coach and administrator at Fresno State, said she’s never encountered.

But was Cuesta College already underrepresenting women? After we ran the numbers, the only answer I could come up with was, not really. Here’s the data straight from the U.S. Department of Education:

Unlike many other institutions in the U.S., Cuesta College actually has more male students than female. According to the published numbers for the previous academic year, Cuesta enrolled 4,761 full-time undergrads, 2,567 men and 2,194 women. That’s roughly a 54/46 ratio. Before the cuts, the school fielded 302 athletes, 173 male and 129 female (7 men’s teams, 9 women’s teams). That’s a ratio of roughly 57/43 male to female. After cutting women’s tennis, a team with just 8 athletes, the ratio was roughly 58/42.

Granted, that’s not exactly proportional to the student body, but it’s closer to proportionality than you’d see at most schools, including just about every HBCU in the country. It’s even a better gender balance than the one that existed at Duquesne University before it cut four men’s teams in January.

According to the most recent report, the school was already in the process of hiring a Title IX coordinator — a requirement of California state law — and was scheduled to discuss the issue at a board meeting last week before news of the complaint hit the papers.

I’m guessing Cuesta isn’t going to be able to settle this complaint simply by dint of hiring a Title IX coordinator. If anything, they’ll have to reinstate the women’s tennis team. While the CSC is happy that any tennis players that remain at Cuesta will regain a chance to compete, the reality is that the school will probably have to find cost savings elsewhere in the athletic department. Those savings, now that the school is under Title IX surveillance, will have to come from men’s teams, either through outright elimination or the institution of roster caps.

The larger lesson ought to be clear: If your team is cut by your school and you’re female, you’ll very likely get a hearing from the Department of Education on Title IX grounds, as well as pro bono legal help from an activist or other legal organization in order to get it done.

But if you’re a male athlete, your only choice is to raise the money to independently support your team. In many cases, even that isn’t enough, as we’ve heard stories of men’s teams being told that in order to be reinstated, they’d have to raise money to support not only a men’s team, but a women’s team too in order to comply with Title IX.

In the real world, we used to call that a double standard.

POSTSCRIPT: It looks like Cuesta has other problems over and above Title IX compliance.

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