Earlier this month the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a series of recommendations on Title IX enforcement. Chief among their analysis was the idea that the Model Survey promoted by the Bush Administration “currently provides the best method available” for measuring student interest, which has been a method of Title IX compliance since 1979. The Commission urged the Department of Education to encourage schools to comply with Title IX through the survey.
Today, Vice President Joe Biden will announce a major reform related to Title IX compliance. Unfortunately, rather than heed the advice of the Commission, the Department of Education has opted for a different route: rescinding the Bush Administration’s guidance on interest surveys and effectively silencing the voices of student athletes in the process.
Measuring student interest has always been a method of Title IX compliance: Prong Three of a 1979 policy guidance from the Office for Civil Rights says that a school is in compliance with Title IX if they can demonstrate that the interests and abilities of members of the underrepresented sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the school’s programs. The Bush Administration’s “Model Survey” simply provided a how-to map to effectively measure student interest. It did not, as critics charged, create a new method of compliance.
Student interest was always supposed to be at the forefront of Title IX, schools simply lacked a thorough, government-approved measurement devise. Far from being a “weak” measure for or “loophole” in compliance, the recent Commission on Civil Rights report found the Model Survey to offer institutions a “flexible and practical, yet rigorous means of attaining a high student response rate.”
Today’s decision to rescind the Model Survey effectively silences the main constituency of college athletics—the student athletes. Under the new policy change, schools will still be able to use surveys as part of their case for proving compliance, but such a route would require so many other steps that it’s unlikely that a school would choose that method of compliance.
The effective message from the Department of Education is clear: stay away from interest surveys. The move solidifies the dominance of Title IX’s other compliance mechanism, proportionality—a method which favors rigid gender quotas over student interest. In other words, instead of eliminating a “loophole” in Title IX compliance, the Department of Education just eliminated the only common-sense mechanism that schools had to work with.
Allison Kasic is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, D.C.