Posted October 14, 2002
CAMPUS: America's Student Magazine, is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a non-profit educational organization in Wilmington, Del.
Rarely are good laws twisted to such bad ends. When Congress passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972, Senators and Representatives meant to guarantee equal treatment under the law for women. That, alas, is not quite how things turned out. As Jessica Gavora reveals in her stunning new book, Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX, what started as an attempt to bring equality-under-the-law to women resulted in one of the most ruthless quotas in American public life. Over the past ten years, men's athletics programs nationwide have faced cuts — and even elimination — because of Title IX quotas.
While Tilting the Playing Field examines the unintended — and unpublicized — consequences of Title IX, the book's main value can be found in its detailed portrayal of how imperious judges and activist bureaucrats transform laws to achieve their own desired ends. If there is an antagonist in Gavora's narrative, it is Norma Cantu, the head of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights under President Bill Clinton. It was Cantu who, more than anyone else, used Title IX to shut down collegiate sports teams, to gut the PSAT, and to help suspend a six year-old boy for kissing a girl on the cheek. Authorization for Cantu's actions, of course, cannot be found in the original Title IX statute. That is why Tilting the Playing Field is ultimately a cautionary tale to advocates of self-government, and a call to arms for those who still value government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."
CAMPUS recently spoke with Jessica Gavora, who now serves as chief speechwriter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, about the history and consequences of Title IX, and also about Tilting the Playing Field.
CAMPUS: How did you come to write a book about Title IX?
GAVORA: I was working in the conservative think tank world in the mid-nineties, and it was actually a professor, Jeremy Rabkin from Cornell University, who said to me that I should take a look at what is happening at college campuses under Title IX. I looked at it and was amazed — and disgusted — with what I found. What began to happen in the mid-nineties was that Title IX had become an agent of discrimination against men.
CAMPUS: Who is affected by Title IX?
GAVORA: Title IX affects every single school in the country, because every single school receives public funds. Not every school has been sued under Title IX, but the complex gender-equity bureaucracy requires that every school have a Title IX expert on staff to help little schoolgirls file sexual discrimination lawsuits. [The law] also affects every single aspect of education. When parents file sexual harassment suits after little boys kiss little girls on the playground, they can do so because of Title IX. And the Clinton administration attempted to outlaw standardized tests under Title IX.
CAMPUS: Why do most discussions of Title IX focus on athletics?
GAVORA: I think that athletics make for great visuals. Athletics is also a gender-segregated activity, one of the few remaining in American life. And what can't be ignored are the fathers who can live vicariously through their little girl's athletics. They've become a political force. Feminists have convinced them that the reason their little girls can play soccer is because of Title IX. They think that if the law were taken away or amended, their girls would no longer play sports.
CAMPUS: Are the soccer-dads right? What impact did Title IX have on women's sports?
GAVORA: Little to none. I looked at the data in my book. I went back to when high schools started keeping data in 1971. You see that girls' participation in sports more than doubled in the year before Title IX was passed. The greatest gains in girls' sports occurred in the seventies, when the important regulations for athletics did not pass Congress until 1979. The highest arc in the curve by far was before Title IX was rigorously applied.
CAMPUS: How does an equal-rights law turn into a quota?
GAVORA: [The ultimate effect of] Title IX, as with most civil-rights laws, depends on who is enforcing it. So under Clinton, we saw a very strong effort to see Title IX enforcement as "equality of results." There's no question that Title IX should be enforced across the board as an anti-discrimination law. But what we saw under Clinton was this quota approach that demands equal results in areas like sports and even areas like testing.
CAMPUS: Where else do we see Title IX affecting education?
GAVORA: I think that there is a major push to involve girls in math and science. Most of this increased participation in math and science results from cultural changes, but there are lots of federal programs to encourage this activity. What is ludicrous about that is that we know, thanks to Christina Hoff Sommers [The author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys], that girls are outperforming boys in almost any standard of academic achievement today. Colleges are practically in a crisis to recruit young men.
CAMPUS: When did people start paying attention to boys?
GAVORA: Probably with the work of Christina Hoff Sommers. About a month ago in the Washington Post there was an article titled, 'Where the Boys Aren't,' which talked about the problems facing boys in today's world. When you start to have that level of concern, you know things will start to change for the better. This is a fundamentally commonsensical country, and we are beginning to understand the serious social consequences of the transformation of Title IX.
CAMPUS: How do we give ensure equal opportunity without resorting to quotas?
GAVORA: We need to ask ourselves, can we pass laws like [Title IX] and not have them evolve into these harrowing social engineering projects? We see the same thing with the Civil Rights Act devolving into quotas. I'm not ready to give up on the moral rightness of these two acts. That we fix this — that we prove we are able to pass laws that can't be perverted — is a major issue facing our country today.
CAMPUS: How do we fix Title IX?
GAVORA: One thing we can do is to not allow bureaucrats, or the courts, to legislate. The courts and bureaucrats have completely transformed this law. And so shame on Congress, and shame on us all in the power that we invest in federal judges. I don't blame Clinton for what happened to Title IX. His people came into power and went to town with [Title IX]. And Congress should have been saying, no wait, we passed this law; you can't change it without our approval.
CAMPUS: Are you planning to write another book?
GAVORA: I really enjoying ghost writing a lot. I've been very inspired by women like Christina, and this area [gender studies] is sorely lacking in reason. I have to say it: The other side, I have so little respect for them. They've been riding on political hackery for the past 10 to 15 years. If a radical feminist stood up and made an intellectually honest point — if they actually admitted that they believe women should have affirmative action — I'd really appreciate it. But they changed the law outside the legislature, and now they won't admit it.
CAMPUS: Were you satisfied with Tilting the Playing Field's reception?
GAVORA: I was happy and surprised beyond my wildest dreams. Before the book came out, I thought that I would be happy if this book was well-respected. But I had media opportunities with the book, and there was a level of debate and changed debate on Title IX with this book that I would never have been able to imagine. Still, obviously, there are lots of people that need to be reached. But the thirtieth anniversary of Title IX was not the simple, one-sided celebration of the law that it could have been.
"Feminists have convinced [fathers] that the reason their little girls can play soccer is because of Title IX. They think that if the law were taken away or amended, their girls would no longer play sports."
"If a radical feminist stood up and made an intellectually honest point — if they actually admitted that they believe women should have affirmative action — I'd really appreciate it. But they changed the law outside the legislature, and now they won't admit it."