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New Rule on Title IX Compliance Is Hampering Progress of Women's Sports, Senators Are Told

By ANNE K. WALTERS

(As seen Courtesy of The Chronicle) Washington


A group of former female Olympic athletes, sports experts, and college and high-school coaches asked a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday to maintain support for a key federal gender-equity law, and to push the U.S. Department of Education to repeal a clarification it issued last year on how to determine compliance with the law. The department's change weakens women's access to sports, they said.


The athletes and coaches spoke at a hearing on the promotion and advancement of women in sports before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The speakers praised the advances made by female athletes since the federal law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, was passed, and stressed the continuing need for girls and women to be involved in athletics.

The women who were the first to benefit from the legislation, which bans sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds, are now mentors for the next generation, said Tara L. Erickson, the women's soccer coach at the University of Oregon. She urged the committee to support Title IX and the next generation of young athletes.


"Help them be athletes, help them be mentors, help them be strong," Ms. Erickson said.
The five Olympians who spoke said that despite the advances that had helped make their success possible, more still needs to be done to increase women's participation in athletics. Other witnesses at the hearing said that college athletics programs for women receive less money than men's sports do, and that even though women make up 54 percent of the enrollment at colleges, they account for only 43 percent of the participants in intercollegiate athletics and receive 45 percent of athletics-scholarship dollars.


The speakers said they were most concerned about a clarification to the rules on complying with Title IX that the Education Department issued last March. The clarification allows colleges to gauge interest in women's sports merely by conducting an e-mail survey (The Chronicle, April 1).


Judith M. Sweet, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's senior vice president for championships and education services, criticized that method as an unreliable means of measuring interest because many students simply do not reply to Internet surveys. Under the clarification, a nonresponse would count as a negative response.


"This approach is contrary to the intent of Title IX itself and appears to be designed to enable schools to show that females are not interested in participation," Ms. Sweet said.


No Education Department officials testified at the hearing, but in the past the department has said that using an e-mail survey is in line with past procedures used to judge women's interest in a sport.


The hearing drew only a handful of senators, and all expressed their support for strengthening Title IX. Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska who is the committee's chairman, and Sen. Gordon H. Smith, a Republican from Oregon, said they planned to schedule another hearing and ask Department of Education officials specifically to discuss Title IX.


The committee, Senator Stevens said, has "got to make it clear to the Department of Education that we need to not step back from Title IX, but to strengthen it."


More information on the speakers and transcripts of their comments are available on the committee's Web site.

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