CSC Provides the Platform: Student Athletes Speak Out Against Cuts

Sports Council Update, November 2006

FROM: Jessica Gavora, CSC Director of Communications

Dear Friends of the CSC;

When James Madison University (JMU) announced on September 29 the elimination of 10 athletic teams in order to comply with Title IX proportionality – the largest single act of Title IX related cuts by a college or university – an important moment occurred in the fight against Title IX quotas. The College Sports Council (CSC) has spent the past six weeks working with the student-athletes and parents of James Madison, men’s Olympic sports, and other organizations to turn this moment into real progress in Title IX reform.

Our first act was to express our strong preference for surveys of student interest instead of proportionality to comply with Title IX. We called on James Madison to use the Department of Education’s 2005 model survey of student athletic interest before they make the cuts .

Of course, the CSC recognizes the very real obstacles to using the survey – obstacles that include threats and intimidation from the NCAA and quota groups. So at the same time we urged JMU to use the survey, CSC Executive Director Eric Pearson called on the Bush Administration to do more to make interest surveys a viable option for schools. Said Pearson, “The 144 student athletes at JMU are the latest in a long line of victims of the gender quota. They join the unfortunate others at Rutgers and Slippery Rock who have dropped multiple teams. The coaches, athletes, and parents of the College Sports Council have said for years that Title IX’s proportionality rule inevitably leads to the elimination of athletic opportunities. Now the administrators at JMU have said the same.”

Countering the “Financial Decision” Myth

One early article on JMU’s cuts appearing in Inside Higher Ed, heavily influenced by the pro-quota groups, attempted to paint the JMU decision as a purely financial one . It was so blatantly one-sided in its coverage that CSC media representative Jim McCarthy fired off a blistering response which read, in part:

“[Women’s Sports Foundation Executive Director] Donna Lopiano has built an entire fundraising operation around a specific ideological agenda and also works in concert with trial lawyers to threaten litigation against schools. She is welcome to her view, of course, but again there are scores of credible, expert sources that differ with her on the fundamentals of Title IX enforcement and gender politics. Readers deserve to know that and also to hear those differing perspectives. It is simply disingenuous to present her as an independent, objective observer.”

As the days and weeks went on these “differing perspectives” prevailed and it became clear that this round of Title IX cuts represented a turning point. The bold candor of JMU administrators, who have consistently said that the need to make their athletic rosters proportionate with their 61 percent female student body was the reason behind the cuts, set the stage for an honest and forthright examination of Title IX. Joining with both male and female student leaders on campus, the CSC worked to change the debate following the JMU cuts. Instead of the usual finger pointing at school administrators or football (aided and abetted, or course, by the pro-quota groups), the coverage of the JMU decision has placed the blame for the cuts squarely on Title IX, and awakened the voices of a new generation of student-athletes.

The Voices of a New Generation of Student-Athletes

These voices were heard in the media coverage of the JMU cutssaying clearly that a law meant to end sex discrimination on college campuses is now causing discrimination. A quote that appeared in the New York Times from Jennifer Chapman, a senior on the women’s cross country team and one of the student-leaders the CSC has been working with, was typical. “Title IX was created in 1972 to prevent sex discrimination, and it was needed,” Chapman said to a protest rally of 400 students on the JMU campus. “But look what’s happening now. We rode the bus home from Pennsylvania for four hours, 14 guys and 19 girls all crying together. How is that supposed to have been Title IX’s intent?”

The CSC recognized from the outset that these student-athletes and leaders are a powerful asset in our fight for Title IX reform. Our challenge was to find the megaphone to project their common sense message of Title IX reform to the policy makers responsible for the current interpretation of the law. Our approach needed to be public enough to highlight the growing number of athletes, coaches and parents pushing for reform. At the same time, we needed to be strategic; to seek to influence policy-makers without alienating potential friends and allies.

The Title IX “Straightjacket” Vs. an Athlete-Centered Approach

Our first step was to take our case straight to the responsible parties in Washington, DC. Together with the JMU student-athletes and leaders from dropped teams at Howard University and Fresno State University, the CSC drafted a letter to Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. In it, we labeled the proportionality standard “a legal straightjacket, forcing schools to impose a one-size-fits-all system, without regard to merit, interest, fairness or common sense.” In addition, we requested a meeting with her to discuss an alternative, “athlete-centered” approach to Title IX compliance. This approach would build on the Department of Education’s own guidelines for student surveys and would, as our letter put it, “allow students themselves to at long last have the central role in determining athletic opportunity.”

Rally for Reform at the Department of Education

Then, on November 2, in conjunction with the Independent Women’s Forum, the CSC held a first-of-its-kind rally on the front steps of the Department of Education in Washington. Present were over a hundred student athletes – both males and females – along with coaches, parents and supporters. Remarkably, the JMU women’s swim team came out to support their male counterparts, even though their team had survived the cuts. The student athletes were there – uncoached and unrehearsed – to demand that the enforcement of the law be changed. And as they spoke, you could feel the ground shift under the pro-quota forces who have dominated college campuses for the past forty years.

In front of a crowd of athletes dressed in their school colors holding signs proclaiming, “Support Equality: Reform Title IX” Jim McCarthy opened the rally and directed a series of speakers that included student-athletes, a parent representative, representatives of the CSC, as well as Allison Kasic, Director of Campus Programs at the Independent Women’s Forum. The speakers – who were occasionally interrupted by the crowd singing rousing choruses of the JMU fight song – were unanimous in their message: Title IX is a good law gone tragically bad on college campuses today.

It was fascinating to see student-athletes who weren’t alive when the law was passed – who missed the passage of the law by more than a decade – describe in no uncertain terms how Title IX would be irrelevant to their lives if it weren’t for the fact that it is causing so much pain and loss in their sports. To a man and woman they stood up and said that Title IX may have been a good idea in the Seventies when it was passed, but now it is an anachronism, and a damaging on at that. Mitch Dalton, captain of the JMU men’s swimming team said it best when he said, “If I had been alive during the seventies I would have supported Title IX. But now it’s killing my sport.”

Another student-leader spoke to the changing views of young women toward Title IX. Stacey Fuller, the student representative on the James Madison Board of Visitors and one of the prime organizers of the rally, put it powerfully:
“Nationwide, college enrollment is 60 percent female and 40 percent male,” Fuller told the crowd. “Is this not a clear indication that, in the realm of the university, Title IX has done its job? There has been a cultural shift in the United States in the last 35 years. You have created women like me, who are empowered, successful, and who recognize inconsistencies in the laws when we see them.”

The Theme of the Day: We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore

The James Madison student-athletes at the rally spoke painfully about how the opportunity to compete in collegiate athletics was over for them, but they were worried about future generations of kids playing Olympic sports like track, swimming, wrestling and gymnastics – sports that are disappearing from college campuses because of the law. Unlike most athletes who’ve had their teams cut, who understandably care only about getting their sports back, these athletes knew the odds were against them. But they came to Washington anyway, even though some of their coaches tried to schedule practice to deliberately conflict with the rally.

But despite these efforts to silence them – and a media conference call held later in the day by the Women’s Sports Foundation to rebut our speakers – our message dominated the day. USA Today, US News and World Report, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, Swimming World Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and local television news covered the rally.

Following the speakers, the JMU track squad did a “Five Miles for Fairness” run around the Department of Education. The members of the men’s swim team braved the November air in their goggles and Speedos to show their support. They also took part in the five-mile run.

Meeting With the Chief Title IX Enforcer

Following the rally, Eric Pearson and I led a group of student-athletes in a meeting with Stephanie Monroe, the Assistance Secretary of Education for the Office of Civil Rights, and David Black, the Deputy Assistant Secretary. In the meeting, the students were even more impressive then they had been at the rally. They spoke respectfully but firmly of the damage Title IX has done, not only to their own athletic careers, but to the hopes and dreams of the young athletes so many of them mentor and coach.

To Assistant Secretary Monroe, Eric and I repeated the CSC’s call for the replacement of the proportionality test with an athlete-centered approach to Title IX compliance. We expressed the Council’s belief that the Education Department’s 2005 model student survey was a step in the right direction, but that colleges and universities need additional support from the federal government. Eric made the point that many of the 2003 recommendations of the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics (the Bush Administration commission designed to examine Title IX enforcement) deserved a second, more serious, look by the Department. Our bottom line: The status quo is unsustainable. Despite promises of reform, athletes continue to be needlessly harmed by Title IX.

For her part, Assistant Secretary Monroe acknowledged that there is a serious, ongoing problem with Title IX enforcement. However, she made no immediate promises that the Department of Education would change the enforcement of the law (the proportionality test, remember, is not part of the language of the law but part of the bureaucratic rules implementing the law. It was written by bureaucrats and could be changed by bureaucrats). Instead, she encouraged the CSC and the students to take our case to Congress. And in fact, later that day a delegation of students led by Stacey Fuller met with Senator John Warner of Virginia.

Regarding taking the case for Title IX reform directly to Congress, Assistant Secretary Monroe has a valid point. Political realities may very well be such that reform of Title IX must be initiated and directed by Congress. This is where the CSC intends to direct its energies over the long term. Already, we are in the process of drafting language for a legislative fix to Title IX enforcement, and working with potential sponsors in Congress.

In the more near term, we also plan to continue the considerable momentum created by our rally in Washington. Before the end of the year, we hope to bring together a panel of athletes, coaches and experts to discuss the changing demographics on campus and how Title IX has failed to keep pace. We are also looking forward to celebrating the CSC’s fifth anniversary in April of next year. Additional details will be forthcoming as the date gets closer.

In the meantime, please keep us informed of Title IX related issues and events in your communities. We have had great success in beginning to change the direction of the debate over the last couple months, but there is much work left to do. And it is only when those who are most effected by Title IX speak out that change is possible. For our part, we are grateful to the student-athletes, administrators, parents, and coaches at James Madison and elsewhere who have had the courage to call for Title IX reform. Every American who believes in fairness and true equality owes them a great debt of gratitude.


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