In a victory for women’s collegiate athletics, Assumption College, a Catholic four-year liberal arts college in Worchester, Massachusetts, has reinstated both the men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams. The college had planned to cut the teams, citing budget concerns, but received a letter from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) informing them that the cuts would create a violation of Title IX regulations.
According to the TLPJ, Assumption College used the third part of Title IX’s three-part test for compliance. This guideline requires that the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex be met by the current program; TLPJ pointed out that cutting a viable women’s team would indicate a refusal to meet the interests and abilities of the women students and would lead the organization to file suit on behalf of the women’s team. Assumption chose to reinstate all teams rather than face the lawsuit. Track and field participant Amie Nolan told TLPJ, “I’m thrilled that the teams have been reinstated…I am happy and relieved that the school has finally agreed to do the right thing.”
Sue Klein, Education Equity Director at the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that “in this case it was clear that Assumption College’s plan to eliminate two women’s teams would not have been justified by any of the three standardsÉ It is sad that school athletes need to threaten lawsuits to stop their college from backtracking on even limited progress in meeting the standards outlined in the Three-Part Test.”
A recent attempt by the Bush Dept. of Education could weaken the enforcement of the three-part test of Title IX. The Department of Education could alter the criteria for the third part of the test, which is used to measure compliance at two-thirds of colleges and universities, including Assumption College. The new policy interpretation by the Bush Administration would allow interest to be determined through an email survey, rather than by multiple indicators such as interviews with students, coaches, and faculty, and could strongly misrepresent actual levels of women’s interest.
Two recent actions by the US Supreme Court have affirmed Title IX. In March, the court ruled that victims of retaliation for pointing out violations could sue under the 1972 Title IX statute. More recently, the court dismissed a case alleging that Title IX regulations resulted in discriminatory cuts to men’s teams. Since the passage of Title IX, women’s participation in college athletics has risen by 400 percent.