The Magazine

The Math and Science of Quotas

Title IX is alive and well in the Bush Education Department.

Apr 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 30 • By JESSICA GAVORA
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Monroe's aborted attempt to take Title IX where it has never gone before is part of the decidedly mixed record of the Bush administration in eliminating gender quotas under the law. In 2002, the White House created a commission to study Title IX enforcement, which recommended a series of small measures to soften the impact of Title IX quotas in athletics. When even these minor changes--which were approved by a commission hand-picked by the Bush administration--were rejected after an outcry by liberal women's groups, the cave-in was widely credited to the influence of White House Special Assistant for Domestic Policy Margaret Spellings, whom Bush subsequently promoted to secretary of education.

Under Spellings, however, the department has shown some willingness to challenge Title IX quotas. Last year, the Education Department issued guidance making it easier for colleges and universities to show compliance with the law without resorting to quotas. The change would allow schools to use email surveys of students to gauge interest in sports and have the results, instead of a quota, determine which men's and women's teams they would sponsor.

But even this common sense approach has been portrayed by feminists as undermining women's rights under Title IX. Soon after the new guidance was issued, two proponents of Title IX quotas, Donna Lopiano and Nancy Hogshead-Makar, wrote that surveys can't gauge men's and women's relative interest in sports because "culturally, men are simply more likely than women to profess an interest in sport." Women, on the other hand, "are less likely to profess an interest in sports, even if they are interested!"

It is this kind of Stalinist message-discipline on the part of Title IX quota advocates ("Women want to play sports just as much as men, they just won't admit it!") that makes Monroe's misadventure a leading indicator of what's to come with Title IX. Feminists have pursued a consistent strategy of conflating women's progress and Title IX: of treating any retreat from rigid gender quotas as an attack on women and attributing all women's accomplishments to the aggressive enforcement of the law. If a political appointee in a Republican administration will attempt to curry favor with these groups and their media allies by expanding the use of quotas, what should we expect from a Democratic administration?

In fact, it was under the previous Democratic administration that sex quotas became the reigning method of enforcing Title IX compliance in athletics. Clinton administration officials like Cantu worked closely with liberal women's groups to advance a legal and regulatory strategy that transformed Title IX from an equal opportunity law to an equal outcomes law, regardless of differences in interest between men and women athletes. The result was that in the 1990s, for every woman who gained an opportunity to play organized collegiate sports, 3.4 men had the opportunity taken away from them.

And at the same time that quotas were gaining a foothold in athletics, feminists were pushing for their expansion into other areas of education. In fact, some women's groups have argued that the success of Title IX quotas in athletics has overshadowed what they believe to be the law's mandate to provide equal outcomes in other areas of education. Not just math and science programs, but areas like sexual harassment and standardized testing are tempting targets for advocates of gender-quota logic. This logic, so well entrenched in collegiate athletics today, begins with the presumption that men and women and girls and boys are identical in their interests and abilities. And if interests are equal, then "gender equity" demands that actual participation must be equal. Anything less is proof that someone is being discriminated against.

And once accepted, why must this logic end at the playing field's edge? The answer is, it won't. When Stephanie Monroe's successor announces plans to use gender quotas to determine which colleges and universities get federal research funding in math and science, some future White House won't slap her on the wrist; it'll pat her on the back.

Jessica Gavora is the author of Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex and Title IX.