Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act stipulates that “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” (20 U.S.C. § 1681). Designed to eliminate discriminatory treatment at all levels of education and applying to both students and employees, Title IX paved the way for equal treatment of girls and women in career counseling, vocational training, admissions, athletics, extracurricular activities, and employment and promotion decisions. Title IX also assists in creating a climate of intolerance for sexual harassment and tracking on the basis of gender in educational programs. Though the letter of the law mandates gender equity in educational institutions and much progress has occurred since its initial passage, additional enforcement efforts still remain to achieve gender equity. Title IX has been most successful in responding to and further facilitating a shift in societal expectations for greater gender equity and providing individuals and groups with a limited number of remedies when educational institutions fall short of gender equality.
While Title IX mandates gender equity in all educational programs receiving federal funding, enforcement has been sketchy at best and in the 30-plus years since its passage, no institution has lost federal funding as a result of noncompliance. Persons hurt by institutions’ noncompliance have three options. They can file an in-house complaint with the employee designated as the official Title IX officer; lodge a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the federal agency that oversees Title IX; or file a lawsuit. In-house complaints are the least effective and carry considerable risk of social ostracism and other forms of retaliation within the organization for the complainant. Complaints lodged with the OCR also usually result in limited remedies for the complainant, the program, and the larger educational institution. Instead of withholding federal funding, the OCR typically responds to meritorious complaints by admonishing institutions to remedy the discriminatory treatment. Successful lawsuits, however, have the potential both to admonish institutions to remedy discriminatory practices and inflict financial punishment for such discrimination. Since the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Franklin v. Gwinnett, which held that plaintiffs successfully demonstrating intentional discrimination under Title IX were entitled to collect compensatory and punitive monetary damages, educational institutions now have significant financial incentive to comply with Title IX. Nevertheless, more recent Supreme Court rulings have the potential to scale back or erase these financial incentives.
Despite these limited enforcement efforts, Title IX has been successful in reducing or eliminating barriers to higher education for girls and women, such as the previously widespread practices of withholding financial aid and scholarships from women, holding women to more stringent admissions requirements than men, and setting sex quotas on women’s, but not men’s, admissions. As a result of Title IX, women and men now face more equitable admissions and scholarship processes. Despite women’s slight majority over men in percentage of earned bachelor’s degrees, women still trail men in percentage of earned doctorates and professional degrees. Though women have made considerable inroads as teachers, faculty, and administrators, they are still under-represented in the highest levels of education (i.e., as principals, superintendents, deans, provosts, and presidents), signifying a persistent “glass ceiling” for women. Moreover, women’s representation in math and science still lags, due to both blatant and subtle discrimination in these traditionally male disciplines—disciplines that tend to offer greater financial rewards than traditionally female disciplines. The dismantling of affirmative action programs in many colleges and universities across the United States has also negatively affected women’s entrance into and advancement in male-dominated disciplines.
More than any other issue covered by Title IX, effecting gender equity in athletics has been the most contentious and litigious. Detractors claim that boys’ and men’s sports have been hurt by the increase in girls’ and women’s sports as limited but arguably more gender-equal funding is spread thinly across a larger number of teams. Detractors also allege that because interest in girls’ and women’s sports is limited, requiring equitable offerings, funding, and facilities for girls’ and women’s athletics is both difficult and unnecessary.
Yet since the passage of Title IX, women’s and girls’ participation rates in both high school and collegiate athletics have grown considerably faster than boys’ and men’s, an indication that interest in athletics is indeed high among girls and women. Still, women’s and girls’ overall participation rates lag behind boys’ and men’s and do not yet equal the rates of boys and men just prior to passage of Title IX. Though women now constitute a slight majority of all college students, funding for collegiate sports still disproportionately favors men, with men’s basketball and football receiving the lion’s share of funding. Scholarships to male athletes in both Division I and II athletics far exceed those to female athletes. Women still comprise a small minority of high school and collegiate athletic directors, and since 1972, the percentage of head coaches who are women has actually decreased substantially for both girls’ high school and women’s intercollegiate athletics teams, a trend not offset by gains in women coaching men’s sports. Moreover, with few exceptions, a persistent pay gap exists between men and women coaches at all levels. Like men, women benefit physically and emotionally from greater sports participation, and Title IX is often credited with facilitating a groundswell of support (as both players and fans) for the burgeoning number of women’s collegiate and professional sports teams.
- American Association of University Women Legal Advocacy Fund. 2000. A License for Bias: Sex Discrimination, Schools, and Title IX.Washmgton, DC: American Association of University Women.
- Anderson, Deborah, John Cheslock, and Ronald Ehrenberg. 2006. “Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Determinants of Title IX Compliance.” Journal of Higher Education 77:225-50.
- Carpenter, Linda Jean and Vivian Acosta. 2005. Title IX. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. 2002. “Title IX at 30: Report Card on Gender Equity.” Washington, DC: National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. Retrieved March 30, 2017 (http://www.feminist.org/education/TitleIXat30.pdf).
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