OCR official explains harassment policies to skeptical college lawyers

Smart Title: 

U.S. civil rights official seeks to reassure college lawyers that the agency has not altered its sexual harassment standards through recent settlements.

Harvard Law Review to consider gender in editor selection process

Smart Title: 

With only 9 women among 44 editors, the Harvard Law Review expands its affirmative action policy to include gender.

Reinstatement of sororities at Swarthmore College sparks controversy

Smart Title: 

As a group of women readies to open a sorority to Swarthmore for the first time in 80 years, some students are calling for a schoolwide referendum, arguing that a sorority violates the college's Quaker values and emphasis on learning.

Notre Dame of Maryland hires a male president, a rare move for a women's college

Smart Title: 

Notre Dame of Maryland, a women's college, makes a surprising choice for its next president. (Hint: Not a woman.)

Closing the Gap

In its just-issued report "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation" the U.S. Department of Commerce writes that while women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math jobs.

The gender gap in STEM jobs persists despite the fact that more women now graduate from college than men and the fact that women in STEM fields tend to have more equitable wages compared to those in non-STEM jobs. Women major and earn degrees in STEM fields, creating a female talent pool, but they tend to pursue careers in education and health care.

Some may say, "Well, so what? There are some jobs men like, and some jobs women like." Or they may even argue that there are some fields for which one sex has a greater aptitude than the other.

As to the "so what," the answer can be found in the report's title. As long as there is a gender gap in these fields, there will be an innovation gap. And in today's global economy, the countries that lead do so through fostering technological innovation. Creating an environment where women can reach their full potential in the STEM fields is possible and can have impressive results.

Bryn Mawr College is in the top 10 among all colleges and universities in terms of the percentage of female graduates pursuing doctorates in the STEM fields. Our students are six times more likely to graduate with a degree in chemistry than college students nationwide and nine times more likely to do so in math. In fact, Bryn Mawr is second in the nation in the percentage of female students receiving degrees in math, beating out such science-oriented universities as the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has 18 times the national average of female students graduating in physics.

How do we do it? A large chunk of the credit has to go to the college’s founders, who from the beginning (when Bryn Mawr was the first institution to offer women the chance to earn a Ph.D.) offered women the chance to get an education that was the equal to the finest available to men of the era.

But our current success comes from more than just a history of access. Every year, students come to Bryn Mawr unsure of what they want to study, and many end up choosing STEM fields.

When we ask our STEM majors what it is about Bryn Mawr that encourages them to pursue these male-dominated fields we consistently hear two things – being exposed to role models among our faculty, alumnae, and their fellow students, and the positive effect of being in a classroom in which they aren't the lone woman.

Julia Ferraioli graduated from Bryn Mawr in 2007 with a degree in computer science. When she arrived she expected to major in archaeology and had even been steered away from some of the higher-level math courses at her high school. "Studying computer science at a women's college meant that I could concentrate on learning instead of being the representative of a gender," Julia told me via e-mail. "Gender became irrelevant instead of being something that defined me."

As a student, Julia got to know a Bryn Mawr computer science alumna who has worked at AOL and PayPal and is now a web development senior manager for Comcast. The alumna and Julia’s professors encouraged her to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, where she made the connection that led to a job at Microsoft after she graduated. Julia went on to earn a master's in computer science from the University of Rochester and was just featured as the "Geek of the Week" by the website GeekWire for her work as technical evangelist with DocuSign.

As a single-sex college, Bryn Mawr has, I believe, certain advantages in encouraging its students to succeed in fields that have been traditionally dominated by men. But all colleges and universities can learn from our practices and the best practices of others as they teach and mentor students, make hiring decisions and institute policy.

At Bryn Mawr we want to engage all types of students in STEM coursework and believe they all can succeed. Offering students a variety of entry points into the sciences allows those who arrive at college with advanced preparation to enroll in higher-level courses that immediately challenge them, while students who have had negative prior experiences in STEM coursework or poor preparation can take and enjoy courses at various points in the introductory level.

An institution can also use innovative pedagogy that teaches the applications of science to attract more students to STEM subjects. For example, in introductory courses in computer science at Bryn Mawr, students apply CS principles to create graphic design projects. Across the sciences, our lab exercises focus on problem-solving rather than the execution and replication of a series of instructions.

Finally, family-friendly policies encourage faculty to find balance between work and personal life, enabling faculty of both genders to pursue the path to tenure. Ultimately this means more women in the tenured faculty ranks in STEM fields. For example, in chemistry and math, 50 percent of Bryn Mawr’s tenured faculty are women.

Women have come a long way over the last 40 years in terms of educational attainment. Achievement in the STEM fields is one area where we can still do better. At this time, when progress in these fields is so important, it's an area where we must do better.

Jane McAuliffe
Author's email:

Jane McAuliffe is president of Bryn Mawr College.


Degrees of Wealth

Smart Title: 

Georgetown study explores correlations between degree attainment and lifetime earning power.

Refusing to Be Silent

In early June, 33-year-old University of British Columbia graduate student Rumana Manzur was brutally attacked by her husband while visiting family in Bangladesh. He gouged out her eyes, permanently blinding her, and bit off most of her nose. This was done in front of their young daughter.

Stories like this can paralyze us, but they can also mobilize us to speak out. When the mainstream press covers this issue, they are, in effect, starting a public conversation. In responding to this coverage, we tell other parts of the story and create a larger conversation, advocating for unheard voices and voices that are discounted in the "official" discussions at our institutions.

Three of our writers have added their stories to this conversation in the essays below. Afshan Jafar talks back to mainstream media depictions of violence against women, particularly women in "non-Western" countries. Melonie Fullick asks us to think about the ethical obligations involved in internationalizing our institutions and the enduring need for feminism. Lee Skallerup Bessette writes that while she can only speak for herself, she is, nonetheless, obligated to speak on behalf of others.

Death by Culture?*

By Afshan Jafar

Rumana Manzur’s case is heart-wrenching, and terrifying. It makes this post a very difficult one to write. I believe that all forms of violence against women are reprehensible and criminal and should be exposed and punished. But when I see the media coverage of Manzur’s case and its reception by the readers/viewers, I am reminded of why the coverage of violence against women in Other, "non-Western" countries needs to be approached differently.

As a "third-world feminist" living and teaching in the U.S., I am constantly navigating various identities simultaneously in and out of the classroom. Every time I cover this topic in my courses, I am torn. Am I simply perpetuating the myth of other cultures as inherently violent, sexist, and backward? Or did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish? That is, instead of approaching these incidents as something "barbaric," I encourage my students to analyze them as practices that are embedded in particular economic, political, cultural and global contexts. I am haunted by the thought that instead, some of my students may still come away thinking that life in other parts of the world is simply savage and brutal. It doesn’t help to read comments posted by readers of news stories such as those about Manzur. References to a barbaric or backward religion, or culture, the Middle East, “honor killings,” and the Stone Age are some of the first ones to show up. There seems to be no separation in so many people’s minds between the Middle East, South Asia, Islam, or the Arab world. One category easily replaces the other, which only speaks to how foreign and far removed from "our" reality these incidents seem.

This exoticization of violence goes hand-in-hand with various media putting a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the "extreme" cases of violence against women in other cultures. This has some profound and damaging consequences. First, we hear of the honor killings, stoning, etc., but not of the many other forms of abuse and violence — trafficking, bonded labor, rape, domestic violence — even though they impact larger numbers of women. Second, it makes it much easier for people to latch on to a horrific incident such as Manzur’s, which happened in a "third-world country" and breathe a sigh of relief that this didn’t happen here -- and come away thinking that only those "barbaric" people over there do such things.

Uma Narayan, in Dislocating Cultures, describes the common explanations of violence suffered by women in the non-Western world as a "death by culture," where culture becomes an explanation that needs no further examination by the reader/audience, while at the same time it doesn't actually tell the reader/audience anything specific. But it is always only women in Other cultures that suffer a "death by culture," and we don't employ that kind of reasoning to violence that we see in the Western world. The fact is, domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is a serious issue in Western countries as well, but these issues rarely receive the attention they deserve. People are fascinated with the story of Manzur in the same way that they are sickened by a story of an 11-year old girl being gang raped by several men. How could somebody do that?, we ask.

But though we don’t see the second case of the Texas girl as an example of American culture as barbaric (and thus we come up with no answer to our question), we do come to this conclusion in Manzur’s case (and answer our question with vague notions of tradition, custom, or culture). The popularity of “death by culture” type of explanations of violence (and by extension what these imply about the unenlightened state of these cultures) is part of the reason why Manzur's incident has translated into a call to bring more South Asian women for an education to Canada. While giving more women an opportunity to be highly educated is certainly something that should be pursued as a worthy goal in and of itself, this line of thought implies that education will work to "enlighten" these cultures and somehow prevent domestic abuse from happening in the future.

This post is not meant to imply that women's oppression is the same everywhere. There are various degrees of oppression, and some practices are more horrific than others; some cause more suffering than others. Nor is it meant to imply that coverage of violence against women is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I am happy to see the support that Manzur's case has generated in Vancouver. But sometimes artificial dissimilarities blind us to the underlying and significant similarities between practices around the world. Is it really any less barbaric when a woman is shot or stabbed rather than blinded or whipped?

When I see pictures and videos of Manzur, it brings me to tears. I wish we could all see in her face the anguish and despair of the millions of women across the globe, including in our own countries, who are victims of systemic forms of violence and abuse. Perhaps, then, more stories would inspire action than a mere "Tsk, tsk. How cruel."


*I have taken this phrase from Uma Narayan’s chapter "Cross-cultural connections, Border-Crossings, and "Death by Culture": Thinking about Dowry Murders in India and Domestic Violence in the United States” from her book Dislocating Cultures.

Originally from Pakistan, Afshan Jafar is an assistant professor of sociology at Connecticut College. Her recent book, Women's NGOs in Pakistan, uncovers the overwhelming challenges facing women’s NGOs.

Untold Stories of Internationalization

By Melonie Fullick (Canada)

When UBC Fulbright scholar Rumana Manzur travelled to Bangladesh to see her family in May 2011, her husband refused her permission to return to Canada to complete her master's degree. He accused her of cheating; when she argued back, he attacked her viciously, gouging out her eyes in front of their young child — a daughter who will now bear her own emotional scars for a lifetime.

This shocking assault on a promising female student highlights an aspect of the internationalization of universities that is rarely trumpeted in policy discussions and news coverage of higher education.

"Internationalization" is not simply a neutral exchange of ideas and people, a seamless movement of "excellent" ideas and scholars from one nation to another. And the less examined, negative and contradictory side of internationalization seems to flare up in conflicts that we don't know how to resolve, conflicts of "culture" that inevitably affect lives and raise serious ethical concerns.

A recent example is that of Australia, where Indian students have suffered racially motivated attacks and consequently the number of Indian applications to Australian universities has dropped. This has a direct effect on the economic sphere, since Australia can no longer expect to generate revenue from Indian enrollments. Canadian universities are now courting students in India with an eye to stealing Australia’s dwindling share of the market.

Offshoring higher education creates a different set of ethical dilemmas. Issues of socioeconomic class, gender, politics, and sexuality arise when we look at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. Recruited from only the most elite high schools worldwide, students from privileged circumstances receive better aid packages than regular NYU students, but they are not allowed political protest, or to engage in “homosexual acts” on campus. In a country where activists can be arrested for criticizing the government, what are the implications for this elitist outpost? What kind of "world citizens" will be educated there?

These examples highlight problems with the predominant idea of university education, one still based on a Western, liberal model where the university is an "island" of tolerance and reason, a bastion of democratic values. What happens when the walls are breached by racism, sexism, and homophobia; when the island must stay afloat amid authoritarian politics?

There is no reason behind the violence inflicted on Rumana Manzur, and such actions can't be tolerated.

And though gendered violence is more prevalent in countries where women's rights are restricted, it’s not merely a “foreign” phenomenon. The attack also reminds us in a very discomforting way of the violence against women that persists in this country (Canada), particularly for indigenous women. This is abuse that happens in "our own backyard" and even in our homes, much of it still unreported.

Recently in a lecture for a class on gender and society, I heard several young women voice the opinion that feminism is no longer necessary. I’d argue that it’s still necessary everywhere and that Rumana Manzur’s case provides another grievous example of why that’s the case. Perhaps this is one of the less pleasant — though most vital — lessons we can learn from internationalization.

Melonie Fullick is a Ph.D. student at York University, in Toronto, Ontario in Canada who writes about postsecondary education, policy, and governance. She can be found at

I can only speak for myself

By Lee Skallerup Bessette (U.S.)

Why do so many of us fail at being good women? What are the consequences for failing to achieve the stereotypes of a given time, place, and culture?

I have recently started a new weekly feature on my blog for the summer: Bad Female Academic. In it, I try to confront the gender stereotypes that female academics face. The post that thus far has generated the most amount of traffic was my post about being a wife. I wondered on Twitter why that may be; the answer lies in the negative connotations associated with the word "wife," particularly in parts of academia and feminist circles. For many of my readers, to be wife is to be less than, subservient and submissive, possessed.

When I read about Rumana Manzur, graduate student at UBC, I was struck by the many things we have in common: we are exactly the same age; we are both wives, mothers, and academics. She now lies in a hospital bed, on the other side of the world, permanently blinded, unable to ever see her daughter again. Her career may also be over, depending on the rehabilitation resources that are available to her. I sit at my kitchen table, in my house (which I co-own), trying to find the words to express what I am feeling right now.

I feel deeply saddened that a woman who is described as "happy, brilliant, studious, and devout" was tortured because she sought to better herself (and, one would imagine, her family’s economic situation) through education. My heart breaks for the young daughter who apparently witnessed the maiming, at the hands of her own father, Manzur’s husband. Her husband even tried to blame it on her, saying that she had been unfaithful. As if that justified blinding and disfiguring his wife, the woman who is the mother of his child, the person he supposedly loves. I feel impotent rage that this could, that this does still happen to women who are like me.

But she, obviously, isn’t like me; nor I, like her. I feel fortunate that I was able to choose my husband, that he respects me and my career, and that we are to a large extent equal partners in our relationship. We agreed when we were going to have children, how we are going to raise them, and that I should return to work. Our house and our car are in both of our names, but I also have assets that are exclusively mine. How can I, in my privileged position, write about what Manzur has endured?

In fact, how can I even write about the “oppression” or, more accurately, inequality that I face? There is a viral video going around, First World Problems. It is a funny rap done by an upper-middle-class white teen aged boy, exposing the ridiculousness of the complaints uttered by (one would imagine) his peers. There is, of course, a danger in calling these complaints "first world" as they can negate the very real inequalities that exist in the West, but I can’t help but think that my "complaints" are indeed, first world and from a place of privilege.

I have the freedom and the ability to blog and write about the inequalities that I experience in higher education. Indeed, we tend to hide behind the veil of privilege and class, behind the assumption that inequalities don’t, can’t exist in such enlightened spaces. We are made to feel guilt or shame because, really, we should feel fortunate, if not grateful, that we do not face the kind of oppression that Manzur and her daughter have just been subjected to.

We need to do more to allow women to speak out and speak up for themselves, encouraging education, equality, and real protections. Although I feel compelled to speak on her behalf, I refuse to try to speak for her.

I can only speak for myself.

Think global, act local. I will continue to work to expose the inequality here, with the aim of making everyone more sensitive to the equalities that exist everywhere. One thing that I can do today is write this post at University of Venus and share the issue with our readers at Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere. I can remember that when I write, I am but one voice in a larger family of women, many of whom cannot speak for themselves. But I can write, speak, teach, and fight. I have the privilege of refusing silence. So I will.

Lee Skallerup Bessette is originally from Canada and earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Alberta. She can be found at


University of Venus is read by graduate students and college presidents, faculty and provosts, staff and administration. In reaching this broad readership, we feel an urgency to respond to issues, knowing that what we say matters and that it often informs decisions that are being made at the highest levels.

One thing that each of us can do right now is notice those who are not speaking and work to create spaces and situations where they will feel empowered to speak. If we don’t hear their stories, we can’t advocate for meaningful change.

Mary Churchill

Executive Director, University of Venus

The University of Venus
Author's email:

Confronting Salary Inequity


C.K. Gunsalus offers advice to a senior faculty member who finds herself with excellent evaluations -- and a lower salary than her male colleagues.

Summers Beyond Harvard

Monday's Harvard Crimson revealed that 56 percent of Harvard's faculty members believe that the fallout from President Lawrence Summers' statements about women and science has diminished the university's reputation. Yet as a visiting professor at Harvard this term -- someone at the institution but not of it -- I have found the Summers affair and its aftermath dispiriting not because of its short-term effect on Harvard's standing (the university surely will remain the nation's premier institution of higher education) but due to its possible long-term, harmful, effects on the academy.

Many aspects of this case, of course, are peculiar to Harvard: questions about Summers' efforts to expand the Allston section of the campus; a feeling among many professors that the president has not treated them with appropriate respect; a belief that Summers uses an overly centralized approach in running the university. At Tuesday's faculty meeting, Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor, observed that concern over Summers' management style, not a battle of "right versus left" about political correctness, accounted for the faculty uprising.

Many figures beyond the campus, however, have aggressively tried to frame this issue as one of ideology. Princeton's president, Shirley Tilghman, for example, joined in a statement rebuking Summers which subtly attempted to assert the hegemony of her own dubious educational vision. Yale's graduate student union, meanwhile, cited Summers' comments and their institution's alleged lack of day care facilities to demand that Yale rework its tenure evaluation process.

Given these non-Harvard patterns, the reaction to Summers' comments bequeaths three potential problems. First, though the president's address ranged widely over possible tensions between promoting diversity and upholding standards, the firestorm that greeted his thesis about women and science threatens to discredit other, more valid, points that he made. Summers opened his substantive remarks by urging the compilation of "hard data" regarding "what the quality of marginal hires are when major diversity efforts are mounted," if only to rebut the "right-wing critics" who fear "clear abandonments of quality standards." If members of the academy want to sustain popular support for diversity initiatives, he noted, "they have to be willing to ask the question in ways that could face any possible answer that came out."

As Harvard has joined other elite universities in continuing to demand high-quality research accomplishments while striving for greater faculty diversity, its answer to Summers' question no doubt would be satisfactory. Some non-elite institutions, on the other hand, have refashioned their personnel processes to make achieving "diversity" the preeminent, rather than a complementary, goal. The best examples: Virginia Tech, which took hiring decisions away from academic departments and gave them to a pro-"diversity" dean; and the University of Arizona, which is considering recruiting critical masses of "diverse professors who have shared intellectual interests," thereby coupling a pursuit of diversity with a desire for ideological conformity among the faculty. It could be that professors hired according to such models will outperform those selected under more accepted standards of merit. Yet this proposition cannot be accepted simply on the faith of assertions from its most zealous advocates.

Second, some of the reaction to Summers' comments reinforced concerns offered in a perceptive 2004 essay by Mark Bauerlein in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which analyzed higher education through the lens of the "law of group polarization." In such an environment, according to Bauerlein, faculty members "lose all sense of the range of legitimate opinion," leaving them "no idea how extreme [their] vision sounds to many ears." For instance, the professor who initially objected to Summers' comments did so, she said, because "this kind of bias makes me physically ill." At last week's Harvard faculty meeting, one critic questioned the president's fitness by pointing to environmental policies he had proposed when running the World Bank in the early 1990s. Has the academy reached the point where hearing distasteful ideas makes professors sick, or where supporters of "globalization" should be excluded from the ranks of college presidents?

The reaction to this controversy from outside higher education brings into relief professors' tone deafness as to how non-academic figures interpret such comments. It came as little surprise that neoconservative iconoclast Andrew Sullivan defended the Harvard president. But so too did the liberal editorial pages of The Washington Post and, less enthusiastically, The Boston Globe. The Post concluded that if "Summers loses his job for the crime of positing a politically incorrect hypothesis -- or even if he pays some lesser price for it -- the chilling effect on free inquiry will harm everyone."

Finally, despite the more temperate atmosphere at Tuesday's emergency faculty meeting, the impression outside of Harvard remains of an initial campus reaction -- as described by Judaic studies professor Ruth Wisse -- that left Summers "sounding more like a prisoner in a Soviet show trial than the original thinker that he is." This legacy risks discouraging other administrators from articulating views perceived as politically incorrect -- even when doing so would serve their university's best interests.

Such an outcome would especially harm the well-being of less elite institutions, whose most serious personnel-related problem, which is growing more pronounced, is a lack of intellectual diversity among the professoriate. Even Brown president Ruth Simmons recently worried about the "chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought" on campus. Peer pressure for faculty to produce quality scholarship, alumni and parental involvement, and student demand for an intellectually diverse range of courses provide built-in checks to ensure that elite institutions hire on the basis of merit rather than a candidate's perceived belief system, at least most of the time. These forces are much weaker, or do not exist at all, at many less prestigious colleges and universities. I speak from personal experience in this regard: the Brooklyn College administration attempted to displace scholarship, teaching, and service in evaluating my (ultimately successful) tenure application, basing its judgment instead on "uncollegiality," which college documents defined in writing as disagreeing with the personnel and curricular preferences of some senior colleagues.

This lack of intellectual diversity provides one key explanation for the elimination or redefinition of fields -- such as, in my own discipline, political, diplomatic, and constitutional history -- on the grounds not of curricular need but that such topics are "old-fashioned" or "conservative."

How to tackle this problem, however, remains an item of debate. As Inside Higher Ed's "Around the Web" column reported last week, the American Association of University Professors has set up a Web page denouncing government initiatives that guard against the imposition of ideological litmus tests in personnel matters. (The organization's move would have been more helpful had the AAUP offered proactive steps on how to address concerns like those raised by Simmons or Columbia president Lee Bollinger. ) Since leaving the problem to the same faculty bodies that created it is unlikely to produce a happy solution, administrators themselves must champion the cause of intellectual diversity, even at the risk of arousing controversy.

The coming months will reveal whether the reaction to Summers' remarks resulted more from institutional factors confined to Harvard than from issues of broader relevance to the academy. Those on the outside can only hope that this controversy does not spread any further beyond Harvard Yard.

KC Johnson
Author's email:

KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, is a visiting professor at Harvard University for the spring 2005 term.

Sports: What Women Want?

Two weeks ago, the referee in an ongoing contest between girls and boys made the game much more fair. But the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires colleges to offer gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, has met with nothing but jeers from fans of the old rules.

At least on paper, the guidelines for complying with the student participation element of Title IX are pretty clear. Universities need to meet one of three prongs to be in compliance: They must either (1) ensure women are represented in athletics in numbers proportionate to their presence in the student body; (2) demonstrate continued efforts to expand athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or (3) show they are fully accommodating women’s athletic interests.

The third prong is at the center of the current debate. How does a school show it is providing intercollegiate athletic opportunity on par with women’s interest?

The answer, one would think, is obvious: You ask them. In practice, though, it has been far from that simple. Guidance from the Department of Education over the years has been unclear, and colleges have faced a constant threat of litigation for falling short of anything less than "proportionality."

With its new guidance, the Department of Education is finally trying to let schools to use the common sense solution, enabling them to comply with Title IX by e-mailing a survey to all students asking them about their interest in participating in intercollegiate athletics, and judging schools by how closely what they offer matches what women want. It makes sense. So what’s the problem?

Like a home crowd whose team just had a touchdown called back, Title IX’s proponents pounced on the department’s new rules. In an Inside Higher Ed commentary last week, for instance, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer and an assistant professor at Florida Coastal School of Law, and Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, ripped into the new guidance, saying the department is “thumbing its nose at the law and the female athletes it is charged with protecting.”

Of course, home crowds are typically biased -- they want their team to win, after all -- so it’s little surprise that Title IX’s fans are raising questionable objections to the new guidance. Among the weakest, but most important, is the assertion that surveys can’t gauge women’s interest in athletics relative to men because, according to Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano, "culturally, men are simply more likely than women to profess interest in a sport ... women are less likely to profess an interest in sports, even if they are interested!"

Apparently, we’re supposed to give activists like Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano the policies they demand because they say women want to play sports at the same rate as men, but just won’t admit it. Were such logic applied on the playing field rather than in the policy world, it would be like awarding a team points for invisible shots they say only they can see go in the goal.

But let’s suppose women really are unwilling to state their true interest in athletics. Let’s believe Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano when they write that “professing interest in a sport does not predict behavior...." If that’s true, we should find that while lower percentages of women than men profess an interest in putting on their cleats, when it actually comes time to play, women are just as likely to lace ‘em up.

It turns out that contrary to what Title IX activists tell us, what women say does indeed translate into what they do. For instance, according to the Higher Education Research Institute’s report "The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall 2004," between 2.7 and 5 percent of men (depending on the type of college in which they were enrolled) participated in no exercise or sports in a typical week of their senior year in high school.

In contrast, between 4.7 and 16.1 percent of women participated in no sports or exercise.On the high end, between 11.6 and 17 percent of men reported having spent more than 20 hours participating in exercise or sports as high schools seniors, while only between 5.5 and 7.6 percent of females spent that much time.

The findings of "The American Freshman" are corroborated in Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by the University of Virginia’s Steven Rhoads. Rhoads reports that despite the fact that anyone who wants to can play on college intramural teams, typically three to four times more men participate than women.

Surprisingly, the “women want to play as much as men, they just won’t say it” argument might not be the weakest objection to surveys. In a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sending e-mail surveys to students, in which a non-response indicates no interest in sports, is unfair because "a lot of those e-mails won’t even be opened."

Apparently, the women who are supposedly dying to play sports aren’t even sufficiently motivated to keep an eye out for an interest survey, or to open it when it comes. What coach would even want players with so little enthusiasm for their sport on their team?

Perhaps the one argument with which Title IX defenders score a legitimate point is that a survey will fail to capture the athletic interest of incoming students. Hogshead-Makar and Lopiano argue, for instance, that colleges need to examine the interests not only of current students, but of prospective students, who are often recruited by schools based on their athletic abilities.

It’s a decent argument, but it’s ultimately a losing proposition for Title IX supporters. Because women’s interest in athletics really isn’t proportionate to that of men, sooner or later women’s athletic slots might be offered, but no one will be there to fill them. It's one of the reasons colleges have been forced to cut men’s sports, rather than increase women’s sports, to achieve proportionality.

Unfortunately, as long as government is involved, college sports will continue to revolve around political, rather than athletic, contests, and only the most politically skilled will win. Until now, that’s been supporters of Title IX, who have succeeded in persuading policymakers to require that colleges accommodate a demand for women’s athletics opportunities that can’t even be shown to exist. It’s a game Title IX supporters have liked because the referee -- the government -- has usually been on their side.

But real fairness requires a neutral referee, which political solutions simply can’t provide. Take the government out of the game, though, and colleges and students -- not politicians -- will decide the winner. In other words, abolish Title IX, and let supply and demand take over the referee job.

Importantly, in such a system women will almost always control the ball. They can choose the schools that offer what they want -- athletic opportunities, artistic outlets, good academics, or anything else -- and can run past those that don’t.

Schools that discriminate will be penalized not by the government, but by prospective students who choose to enroll in competing institutions. It’s a competition that will be stacked against sexist institutions: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of college students are women, and their majority status has been growing. Women are a powerful market force.

Unless they really are as incapable of acting on their desires as supporters of the status quo seem to suggest, women will get what they want out of their colleges. But if they continue to cede power to special interests and government, while some women will still win, most everyone else will lose.

Neal McCluskey
Author's email:

Neal McCluskey is an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.


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