Panel commemorates 40th anniversary of Title IX

On Thursday evening, the College hosted a panel titled “Title IX at 40: Promises and Possibilities” to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX and to examine its effects on American society, specifically with respect to athletics and academics at institutions of higher education.

Assistant Professor of History Sara Dubow gave a detailed history of Title IX, which was passed as part of the 1972 Education Amendments Act. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at educational institutions that receive federal funds. Dubow shared the striking differences in the number of professional degrees awarded to women in 1972 and today and the number of female athletes engaging in high school and college programs then and now.

Dubow spoke of the continual attention Title IX has received in both the media and the court system. Publications still often feature stories on the effects of Title IX and the views of commentators vary drastically from support to contempt. “Title IX is continually in flux,” she said.

Lisa Melendy, athletic director at the College, spoke next and focused on the impact of Title IX on female athletes. Melendy has worked in athletics at the College for over 25 years. “I’ve lived through the ups and downs and the impacts of Title IX,” Melendy said. “The passage of Title IX did alter the face of athletics.”

Title IX has led to equal treatment of male and female athletes and increased spending on women’s sports, Melendy said. In addition, she said that when Title IX was passed, female participation in sports skyrocketed. “It wasn’t that girls weren’t interested in sports,” she said. “When the opportunities were provided, girls were eager to play.” An increase of over 1000 percent in female participation in athletics has occurred from 1972 to today. “Participation at both high school and college levels is at an all-time high,” Melendy said.

Melendy added that there are still critics of the law. Some feel that women’s expanded participation in athletics has come at the expense of male athletic programs. Melendy said that there is no support for this claim. In fact, men’s team participation and spending has increased since the passage of Title IX at a rate higher than that of women’s.

“I think the future is bright,” Melendy said. “Girls [and] boys growing up under Title IX have been greatly impacted by it.” Melendy ended by saying that while equitable treatment of male and female athletes is now largely the norm, she still sees problems. “I’ve had my share of frustrations as well as victories on my road to equal access,” she said. “I remain both hopeful and vigilant.”

Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith, was the third panelist.  His speech revolved around how Title IX should be viewed in the context of tough financial times and budget deficits. “How do we reshape the environment so [that] there are sufficient resources to enforce Title IX?” he asked.

Zimbalist discussed misleading figures with regard to female participation in athletics. For example, men that practice with women’s teams count as female athletes for statistical purposes. However, female participation has risen greatly, as 43 percent of NCAA athletes today are female.

Zimbalist then addressed the “very difficult financial situation” in which many colleges and universities currently find themselves. “How are we going to find the resources to continue to advance women in athletics?” he asked. He offered a number of “possible substantial reforms to restore fiscal sanity,” including controlling coaches’ salaries, reducing the number of football scholarships offered in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and reducing extravagance in non-revenue sports in FBS. “Nothing is going to come easily, but I think it is worth fighting for,” Zimbalist said.

The last speaker was Debra Rolison, a chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory. Her perspective offered a shift away from the previous focus of the effects of Title IX on women in athletics and focused on the expanded opportunities for women in academia as a result of the law. She began by saying that many science departments in educational institutions are still “too old, too white and too male … How good can science and engineering be when it is missing two-thirds of its talent?” she asked, referring to the lack of diversity expressed in science and engineering faculty. Rolison advocated for an overthrow of the “white male paradigm in science.”

Rolison said that Title IX has had significant impacts thus far. The percentage of degrees granted to women in science, technology, engineering and math has increased greatly since the 1970s. However, there remains a large discrepancy between the number of women earning Ph.D.s and the number of women that ultimately become faculty members in research institutions.

“The tradition of Western science is a world without women,” Rolison said. “Science may be better if we bring in this talent. If the talent is there and is not showing up in our faculty, there is discrimination at work.”

Rolison said one way to address this problem is educating faculty and students about the implicit biases humans hold. “As a society, we, both men and women, overvalue the competence, performance and productivity of men and undervalue that of women,” she said.