Editorial: Surveys unfair way to comply with Title IX

While the Department of Education’s recent efforts to better define Title IX compliance standards should be applauded, the office’s quiet release this month of a new regulatory “clarification” for interpreting the important statute bodes ill for women’s athletics at universities nationwide. The move, which has drawn quick criticism from women’s advocacy groups and the NCAA, allows colleges receiving federal funding to use online surveys —and online surveys only — to gauge whether women’s athletics programs “fully and effectively” meet the needs of female students, one requirement for a university’s compliance with the 1972 gender equity law.

No matter the accuracy of the intended survey, the department’s new guidance makes opting out of either of the other two ways a university can comply — by matching the proportion of female athletes with that of female students enrolled, or by showing an expansion in women’s sports programs —far too easy. While surveys are one way to prove ample accommodation of current or future female athletes, others already in practice, like soliciting input from coaches and administrators in area high schools and city leagues, are equally, if not more, valuable.

Indeed, universities intimidated by the statute’s vagaries should have a clearly defined opportunity to prove that their institution is meeting the interests of its female students if such is the case. However, a poll administered by e-mail that regards nonresponses as a lack of interest is inappropriate and dangerously problematic, as any student who promptly deletes all inbox correspondence from the university could contend.