TCS Daily

Feminism vs. Sports and Science

By Nick Schulz - May 10, 2002 12:00 AM

Sports junkies know that sometimes developments in the sports world are harbingers of broader things to come. Jessica Gavora, a speechwriter for Attorney General John Ashcroft, has written an important new book that demonstrates how that's so.

Gavora's book is called "Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex, and Title IX" and it examines the effect the Title IX amendment to the Civil Rights Act, signed in 1972, has had on collegiate and high school sports.

Title IX states in part:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Now that sounds reasonable enough. But implementation is everything, and by Gavora's telling, during the Clinton administration this seemingly innocuous statute morphed into something troubling. The head of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights during the Clinton administration, Norma Cantu, used Title IX throughout the 1990s to promote a staggeringly radical overhaul of collegiate sports programs in order to promote her view of gender equity.

As Cantu (and her supporters at the American Association of University Women and other groups) saw it, the number of athletes at any university needed to be proportional to the makeup of the student body as a whole. In other words, if a university campus was 60% women and 40% men, but of athletes on campus, 60% were men and 40% were women, that was de facto evidence of discrimination against women and federal funds could be withheld from that school until proportional representation was reached.

Universities have canceled lots of men's sports programs in order to comply with Title IX. Among the hardest hit have been men's wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, baseball and lacrosse programs.

Consider the experiences of two Rhode Island colleges. Gavora writes:
Like the majority of colleges and universities today, Providence's student body was majority female, and growing more so, but its athletic program failed to keep pace. Drawn by the security of Providence's Catholic tradition, women comprised a whopping 59 percent of all students in the fall of 1998. Female student-athletes, however, were only 48 percent of all varsity athletes. This was well above the national average of 40 percent female athletic participation, but not enough to pass the Title IX "proportionality" test. Providence had "too many" male athletes-11 percent too many, to be exact. Adding enough women's teams to meet proportionality, Providence's Gender Equity Compliance Committee calculated, would cost $3 million, a prohibitive expense for the school. Something had to give.

Seven years earlier, Providence's cross-town rival, Brown University, was sued by a group of female athletes when it attempted to de-fund two men's and two women's varsity teams in a cost-saving effort. The female athletes at Brown argued that cutting women's teams was illegal under Title IX because the university had not yet achieved proportionality-despite offering more teams for women than any other school in the country except Harvard. Brown decided to fight the lawsuit, arguing that Title IX required it to provide women equal opportunity to participate in athletics, not guarantee that they actually participate at the same rate as men. A series of adverse rulings led Brown all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. The result was that the rulings of the lower courts stood: Title IX was interpreted to mean that the university did, in fact, have an obligation to see that women participated in sports as enthusiastically as men. The case was a landmark in the institutionalization of quotas under Title IX. Colleges and universities across the country began to cut men's teams to comply with what the court had decreed was the correct interpretation of the law.

Thus, Providence College did what all colleges and universities are today increasingly forced to do: consult its lawyers. Their advice was direct: The only way for Providence to insulate itself from a Title IX lawsuit or federal investigation was somehow to add enough female athletes, or subtract enough male athletes, to close the gap. So instead of imposing double-digit tuition increases to raise the funds for new women's teams, Providence chose to boost the number of its women athletes artificially by subtracting from the men's side of the sports ledger.

Now, feminists say programs are getting cancelled because men's football programs -- requiring scores of male athletes and lots of money -- gobble too many resources, but schools are chicken to cut into football programs because of alumni, budgetary, and other pressures. But this is false. Marquette University's wrestling team was eliminated simply because the school required proportional representation of men and women. How do we know? Because there is no Marquette NCAA football team. Providence College, discussed above, also doesn't have a football team.

The Clinton/Cantu legacy continues today (see "Men's Teams Benched as Colleges Level the Field") despite a current administration that was elected to office rejecting counting by gender and quotas as morally repugnant.

From Sports to Science

This issue is of considerable interest to readers of this site not because TCS devotees were wondering what happened to all those fine baseball programs. The development is important because a similar current is at work in science and engineering departments in academia as well.

The Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter, who is kind of a patron saint to us at TCS, has written about how at Yale "the administration has made it clear that (in particular) it wants more female professors in technology and the hard sciences" (Weekly Standard, 6/21/99).

The sentiment underlying that desire isn't really problematic. More women in the sciences? Sure. Why not? But Gelernter went on to make a critical point:

Whether or not you approve of affirmative action, it's clear that certain of its goals can be achieved and others can't. If you are determined, say, to increase the proportion of Hispanics in your undergraduate population, you can probably do it; Hispanic applicants are available. If your goal is a large increase in female science and engineering professors, you can't do it, because the candidates are not available."

(Gelernter says this is because fewer women are interested in science and engineering. Gender equity feminists say it's because women are discriminated against.)

So what happens when, as Gelernter says, some of affirmative action's goals aren't reached because they can't be reached? Well, Gavora's book has shown us what has happened in the sports realm -- when getting enough women to play sports isn't possible, cut men's programs.

Think something similar won't happen in the hard sciences? The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights already has the ball rolling. They released a report in 1997 titled "Equal Education Opportunity and Nondiscrimination for Girls in Advanced Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education: Federal Enforcement of Title IX."

According to Gavora, "All of the hallmarks of Title IX enforcement in sports... are transferred to an analysis of access to math and science programs in the pages of the report. And, as ever, differences in achievement between boys and girls, however slight, are deemed to be the result of discrimination against girls."

She adds that "the push for gender-engineered outcomes in the technical fields of academia has accelerated" in this century. Of course, in the hard sciences it's not likely that programs will be cut. After all, there are no men's physics classes or men's information technology majors. But there will be heavy pressure to get the "right" proportion of women into the hard sciences. How will that happen? Quota programs requiring proportional representation of men and women in hard sciences will be instituted. This will have the effect not of expanding the number of women in hard sciences, but shrinking the total number of people genuinely interested in hard sciences who will be allowed to pursue hard sciences. In short, to get the numbers right, universities likely will end up having to discourage men from pursuing scientific and engineering careers.

Worst of all, if quota systems are allowed to worm their way into science departments, it will only serve to diminish the accomplishments of female scientists (like our own Dr. Sallie Baliunas) who have achieved so much through hard work and talent. Those interested in the integrity of science in America should pay close attention. Start by reading Gavora's book.

URL Next Door - This week two venerable Washington institutions, the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation celebrated anniversaries. (TCS celebrated Cato's birthday with a piece yesterday by Jim Dorn about the first Friedman Prize winner, Peter Bauer.)

So today's URL Next Door is the Heritage website, and I'd like to extend a personal congratulations to Heritage's President Ed Fuelner for his 25 years at them helm.

After several summers of lifeguarding, mowing lawns, and performing odd construction and janitorial jobs, Fuelner gave me my first "real" job one summer in college when I worked as an intern for the then-flagship publication of the Heritage Foundation, Policy Review. I worked for PR's editor Adam Meyerson, one of the smartest men in intellectual and policy journalism. Lefties can blame Meyerson for discovering and fostering the career of now-CNN luminary Tucker Carlson.

Heritage internships were coveted opportunities. I say coveted for two reasons. First, because Heritage had a talented and fun softball team that traipsed around the Mall striking fear into the hearts of diamond-monkeys from lesser think tanks, like Brookings and the Urban Institute. They let us interns play and then took us out for beer until the wee hours. Second, and more importantly, the Heritage internship was that rare thing in DC, a paid internship, thus prompting scores of young men and women to believe that a successful career can be had reading newspapers, magazines, and policy journals all day, gazing at one's navel, quaffing malted beverages and playing softball -- that's about the perfect job description if you ask me, and I've been eking out a living thus ever since.

The highlight of every couple of weeks was payday. It was no ordinary payday, as every employee would have to cycle through an upstairs conference room where coffee and bagels were served, and where his eminence, Dr. Fuelner would sit with a stack of checks and hand them out to the employees as they came through. We'd genuflect and kiss his ring (OK, the ring-kissing never happened, but I did witness a few curtseys). I was always intimidated by this, and meekly shuffled through nodding and grinning like the college goofball I was. So I never really got to thank Fuelner properly for his generosity, or for making possible a wonderful and rare opportunity for a generally clueless college philosophy major.

Any institution is the shadow of a single person. And Heritage is certainly the impressive and influential shadow of Ed Fuelner. (Although, that shadow got noticeably smaller a few years ago when Fuelner inexplicably started dieting; I've been waiting for Heritage to make me its Salvatori fellow in cholesterol studies ever since.) So, many thanks, Dr. Fuelner, for the checks and for the opportunity. And congratulations on 25 amazing years.

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