In 1972, Congress enacted a sweeping measure, the Education Amendments, which included among its provisions authorization of Basic Educational Opportunity (Pell) Grants, restrictions on busing for the purpose of school integration and Title IX. Title IX banned sex discrimination in all educational institutions receiving federal funding, which meant nearly every school and college in the United States. It was one of several measures enacted during the Nixon administration that transformed women’s legal status during the heyday of the women’s movement.
What made Title IX controversial?
While legislators had debated a number of sex discrimination issues, the bill passed with bipartisan support. While Title IX did not mention sports specifically, that subject, and particularly the funding of intercollegiate athletics, ignited enormous controversy once officials began to write regulations for implementation and compliance. When it appeared that colleges might no longer be allowed to lavish funds on football without providing substantial support for women’s sports, the male sports establishment — the NCAA, coaches and university presidents — with near unanimity fought to exempt “revenue-producing” sports from Title IX requirements. Congress and the White House resisted those pressures, but the final rules for compliance were not in place until 1979.
Then, in 1984, the Supreme Court eviscerated Title IX when it ruled in Grove City College v. Bell that the ban against discrimination applied only to those programs within an institution that directly received federal funds, thus virtually excluding athletics — and many other programs — from coverage. Because the decision affected racial minorities, the disabled and other groups as well as women, a broad coalition pushed Congress to undo the effects of Grove City — an effort that took four years and involved concessions on women’s access to abortion (which was not mentioned in Title IX). In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act over President Ronald Reagan’s veto, and compliance with Title IX began again in earnest.
What has Title IX accomplished?
Opponents of Title IX predicted the death of college football, and the most widely expressed criticism of Title IX was that it would hurt athletic opportunities for male students. Some colleges and universities did eliminate some men’s teams, often attributing the decisions to Title IX, but overall both the numbers of men and women participating in sports and the number of teams for each has grown. At Ohio State, the budget for women’s sports leapt from $11,000 in 1971 to $88,000 in 1976. Nationally women’s participation in NCAA sports soared from 64,000 to 185,000 between 1981 and 2009, while men’s grew from 167,000 to 246,000. The percentage of high school girls on sports teams climbed from less than 5 percent before Title IX to around 33 percent today, compared to 50 percent for boys.
But athletics was just one area where Title IX eroded timeworn practices and attitudes. Before Title IX, many medical, law and business schools limited women to less than 10 percent of admissions; now they are close to half. Women now earn more bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees than men do, and women’s share of faculty positions in research institutions is approaching 40 percent. Title IX, of course, was not the only engine driving these changes, but what Title IX did was to focus attention on blatant sex discrimination and provide an essential tool for chipping at the centuries-old assumption that favoring men was perfectly natural.