Title IX: Ensuring Equal Rights in Education

Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Indiana, exercises with athletes at Purdue University in the 1970s. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1972, Title IX of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to prohibit sexual discrimination by educational programs receiving funds from the federal government.

Here are some things you may not have known about Title IX.

While Title IX is best known for its impact on sports programs at colleges and high schools, the original law makes no mention of athletics.

It followed earlier executive orders by President Lyndon Johnson that required federal contractors to end discrimination on the basis of sex in hiring and employment.

Eventually Congress took up the matter, beginning in 1970 with the House subcommittee on Higher Education holding hearings. It was first proposed by Representatives Edith Green of Oregon, and Patsy Mink of Hawaii and women’s rights activist Bernice Sandler.

It was eventually introduced into the Senate by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, who was also working on the doomed Equal Rights Amendment at the time. The ERA was stalled in committee, so Bayh added the amendment’s equal education provision as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Bayh said he thought of the legislation as a first step toward providing women the right to attend schools of their choice, which would lead to equal pay for equal work.

The bill was signed into law by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. In his remarks, Nixon focused mostly on the practice of desegregation busing, and did not mention expansion of educational access for women.

Because Title IX is very brief, the specific language was left to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to sort out. The final regulations were released in 1975, and required all schools that receive federal funding, including their athletic departments, to give equal opportunities to women. The act requires schools to provide opportunities on a proportional basis to the number of male and female students enrolled as undergraduates. Schools must also accommodate the interest and ability of the underrepresented sex. For example, schools don’t have to create women’s programs if there is no interest among women in participating.

In 1966, before Title IX, there were 16,000 women participating in intercollegiate athletics in the U.S. In 2001, that number had grown to more than 150,000. Women accounted for 43 percent of all college athletes.

Some men’s athletics programs have taken advantage of Title IX as well. In 2006, Western Kentucky University had a disproportionately large number of female athletes, making the school noncompliant with Title IX. The school decided to upgrade its football program to add more spots for male athletes to bring the school into compliance.

Title IX has recently been used to crack down on how college and universities deal with sexual assault on their campuses. In 2014, the federal government began investigating 55 colleges and universities for allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases.

About one-third of states have passed their own versions of Title IX that deal with state funding, rather than federal funding, of education.

Our question: What year did the NCAA conduct its first women’s basketball tournament?

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