Today in labor history: Title IX enacted

( – On this day in 1972, Title IX of the education amendments of 1972 is enacted into law. Title IX prohibits federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students or employees based on sex. It begins: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” As a result of Title IX, any school that receives any federal money from the elementary to university level–in short, nearly all schools–must provide fair and equal treatment of the sexes in all areas, including athletics.

Title IX is also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, named for its author, Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, who died in 2002. The bill was signed on June 23, 1972, by President Richard Nixon and took effect on July 1, 1972.

Before Title IX, few opportunities existed for female athletes. Ask any woman who went to high school before Title IX was enacted and you will hear many stories about wanting to be on a sports team, but none existed for girls at that time.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which was created in 1906 to format and enforce rules in men’s football but had become the ruling body of college athletics, offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams. Furthermore, facilities, supplies and funding were lacking. As a result, in 1972 there were just 30,000 women participating in NCAA sports, as opposed to 170,000 men.

Title IX was designed to correct those imbalances. Although it did not require that women’s athletics receive the same amount of money as men’s athletics, it was designed to enforce equal access and quality. Women’s and men’s programs were required to devote the same resources to locker rooms, medical treatment, training, coaching, practice times, travel and per diem allowances, equipment, practice facilities, tutoring and recruitment. Scholarship money was to be budgeted on a commensurate basis, so that if 40 percent of a school’s athletic scholarships were awarded to women, 40 percent of the scholarship budget was also earmarked for women.

Since the enactment of Title IX, women’s participation in sports has grown exponentially. In high school, the number of girl athletes has increased from just 295,000 in 1972 to more than 2.6 million. In college, the number has grown from 30,000 to more than 150,000. In addition, Title IX is credited with decreasing the dropout rate of girls from high school and increasing the number of women who pursue higher education and complete college degrees.

The law may be taken for granted today, but there was quite a struggle to pass Title IX.

“The Washington Post and New York Times opposed it in editorials; college presidents decried it; college football coaches demeaned it; and many members of Congress tried to figure out ways to weaken it,” wrote Gwendolyn Mink, a professor of equality law, poverty policy, gender issues and American politics, and the daughter of Patsy Mink, in her blog marking the 40th anniversary of this major civil rights law.

After Title IX became law, the attack on it intensified.

Mink notes, “The loudest assault came from the male athletics lobby – the NCAA, and legions of college football fans. Although Title IX was not enacted with women’s athletics primarily in mind, the male sports establishment certainly predicted correctly that under Title IX, women would flourish as athletes.”

President Obama, in a 2012 Newsweek oped marking the 40th anniversary of the bill’s signing, wrote that as result of the law, “Today, thanks in no small part to the confidence and determination they developed through competitive sports and the work ethic they learned with their teammates, girls who play sports are more likely to excel in school.”

One of the most striking examples of the success of Title IX and the benefit for the entire nation came in 2012 at the London Olympic Games. For the first time, women outnumbered men on the U.S. Olympic team. U.S. media outlets dubbed the games, “The Title IX Olympics.”

Title IX was a milestone, but the struggle to complete its promise goes on. For example, battles continue over charges that Title IX discriminates against men. Some colleges claim that Title IX forced them to drop predominantly male sports like wrestling.

Gwendolyn Mink says, “The history of Title IX over 40 years is really the story of millions of bold and resilient girls and women who have enforced Title IX by their actions – by resisting exclusion; demanding fairness; exposing sexual harassment; and challenging educational institutions to change because of the contributions of women.”

Today, Title IX is also a means for campus survivors of sexual assault to file complaints if the administration ignores or mishandles reports of rape and other sexual violence. Sexual assault on college campuses is so pervasive the White House recently convened a task force, which issued a report in May, and developed a tool kit and website for students to take action on their campus.

“When many people think about Title IX they think about it in the context of [discrimination in] women’s athletics – but it is so much more,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, said in her opening remarks at a Capitol Hill meeting.

“It is part of our federal civil rights scheme that ensures that students have equal access to educational opportunities free from sexual discrimination. This also means an educational environment free from sexual harassment and free from sexual violence.”

Photo: Senate sponsor of Title IX, Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, jogs with athletes from Perdue University (CC/Wikipedia).