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Standing on My Shoulders
Hey boys! Don't just do something... sit there!
October 2, 2002

Across the country there are gaggles of twelve year-old girls arguing with friends over who is cuter, the Backstreet Boys or those from N'Sync. Nine year olds are trying to stop their kid brothers from flushing a Barbie or a My Little Pony down the toilet. Fifteen-year-old young ladies get home from school and wonder whether or not Ross and Rachel -- from Friends, not 5th period lunch -- will ever get back together. To these girls, I was a hero.

Who knew? Certainly I didn't.

I spent my college career as a writer and campus pol. The penultimate display of "competition" involved dice, a die-cast iron thimble or shoe, and fake money. Athletics? NBA Jam on my Sega Genesis. Sure, I enjoyed the occasional pickup football or basketball games, and was known to play tennis maybe three times every spring. But intercollegiate sports? No sir.

coverSo, how am I a hero? That's what Jessica Gavora's Tilting the Playing Field teaches us.

Because of my lack of interest in participating in collegiate football, wrestling, swimming -- heck, any officially organized sport -- I lowered the percentage of male athletes at my alma mater. More importantly, the percentage of female athletes went up. In fact, as far as the powers behind Title IX are concerned, that percentage is all that matters. For a school to comply with the law, the percent of athletes that are female needs to be roughly equivalent to the percent of undergrads of the fairer sex.

Hey, I did my part.

And I'm not alone. Take Mike Scott (page 43), the ex-Providence College baseball player. His team -- the defending Big East champs -- was eradicated after the 1999 season. Why? PC (pun not intended) was 59% female, but women made up only (only?) 48% of the campus athletes, so the school was violating Title IX. So the men's baseball, golf, and tennis programs were axed in the name of proportionality. Sure, PC could have simply admitted more armchair quarterbacks like yours truly, but if one school employs affirmative action for couch potatoes, the race to the bottom will be over quickly.

How does Title IX end up making the lazy into heroes? The meat-and-potatoes of the bill doesn't say much -- well, anything -- about college athletics:

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 of activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
It's rather plain English -- odd for a law, huh? -- but its effect is not it's its word. For that, we need Gavora's book, which tells us what Title IX means after being run through the wringer of unelected bureaucrats and activist judges.

In order to be discrimination-free, a school's athletic program needs to meet one of three criteria put forth by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) -- a bureaucratic organization often and rightfully maligned by Gavora. Part one of this "three-part test," Gavora notes, perverts logic and ends up with making a critical yet common mistake: reversing the "if" clause with the "then" clause. If a school's athletic program discriminates against women, then there is unequal (that is, less) participation in sports amongst women and men at that school. That's fine, but the enforcers of Title IX make the if/then switch. The end result? If there is less participation in sports amongst women than men at a school, that school is discriminating against women. So, if it's Thanksgiving, then it's Thursday. But if it's Thursday, then it's Thanksgiving? Nope -- both the OCR and the Thanksgiving analogy are trying to sell you a turkey.

Logical fallacies nonetheless, schools still need to follow this interpretation of the law. Of course, no school is expected to wake up one morning and suddenly be in compliance with this demand -- there are only so many couch potatoes like me out there, and we can only matriculate at one school at a time. So schools can find redemption by demonstrating "a history and continuing practice of program expansion" in the field of women's athletics -- criterion #2. (Note that increasing the number of guys-like-me doesn't do that.) That sounds like a fine idea, until Gavora points out that a "continuing practice" needs to have an end, and the only acceptable end is at equality. In other words, this criterion is just a neatly worded restatement of prong number one.

Part three? The school has to demonstrate that those interests of the underrepresented sex have been "fully and effectively accommodated." It doesn't take a cynic to realize that if even one woman complains, her gender group isn't "fully" accommodated.

Compliance doesn't come by simply offering women's basketball and dozens of other women's sports. Offering athletic scholarships to any woman who wants one won't cut it. Nor does steadily increasing funding toward women's sports, or does providing as many teams as economically feasible for women. The only sure-fire way is to somehow, some way get the percentage of female athletes equal to the percentage of female undergrads.

Schools need a solution, and the easiest one is to limit men's athletic opportunities. Gavora's list of guillotined teams doesn't end with Mike Scott's. So too went Stephen Reynolds’ (page 51) men's gymnastics team at Syracuse, which led him to transfer to James Madison -- where he promptly lost his scholarship due to Title IX balancing concerns. The University of Miami nixed its Olympic athlete-producing men's swimming program in 2000, citing proportionality concerns. Princeton and the University of Southern California cut their wrestling and swimming programs in the mid-1990s, even though alumni had raised enough funds to keep them afloat. The problem isn't funding -- it's that the proportion of men who join and stick with athletic programs is higher than the proportion of women who do the same.

And then there's the other solution; my solution. Affirmative action for PS2 "athletes," the guy who spends more time in the computer lab than the gym, and the 4'9" kid with scoliosis. It'd probably solve another problem caused by Title IX. How?

As Gavora deftly notes, campus sports aren't the only victim of the Title IX march to sea, and she couldn't be more correct. It also has become some deranged banner waived by those who call the act of reading Maxim ipso facto sexual harassment. Gavora lists a number of acts considered illegal under Title IX, including but not limited to "displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials" (making the Starr Report a hard thing to own during my college years), "sexual advances," and "talking about one's sexual activity in front of others." Given that those violations -- save maybe the first -- are unlikely to be committed by those who rarely if ever dated while in college, more of the socially inept are a solution. But again, affirmative action for us dorks seems likely on the horizon.

And maybe teaching jobs, too. One case Gavora mentions involved John Bonnell, a professor at Macomb County Community College. Bonnell was discussing the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, using language like "ass" and "blow job." A female was offended by his words, she filed a Title IX-backed sexual harassment claim, and Bonnell was abruptly suspended by the college. Universities need to quickly and quietly deal with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape complaints, lest the university itself be on the wrong end of a Title IX lawsuit. The schools are fantastically ill equipped to deal with matters best left to the justice system; farcical outcomes are the norm. Case in point: A disdain for campus kangaroo courts -- like the one that suspended Bonnell -- led me to run for a position on the judge/jury/executioner panel at my alma mater. One case we heard came back 4-1 (that's me, Mr. "Not Guilty" voter) to convict a freshman of "unwanted sexual advances," whatever that means. But remember: If the freshman had just focused on his Final Fantasy X game, it'd have never happened. More dorks, more nerds, more geeks -- less lawsuits.

And then comes the dreaded topics of math and science.

For the typical anti-jock boy -- myself included -- this is a real problem. Because our verbal SAT scores often pale by comparison our math ones (I had a 200 point gap), boys go on to be engineers, scientists, and mathematicians more often than girls do. Gavora notes two methods of rectifying this "problem." First, President Clinton's OCR worked with a group with the Orwellian name "FairTest" to push for the recentering of PSAT scores so that girls and boys would fare roughly the same. Why? Yeah, Title IX of course. And like everything else in the Title IX path, the College Board (who administers the PSAT) surrendered. Beginning with the 1999 class of test takers, the PSAT included a thirty-nine-question section -- verbal, not math -- which girls generally fare better on.

Gavora found not only evidence that women favored biology over the math-intensive sciences such as physics and chemistry, but also proposes a reason for this interest gap: evolution. Simply speaking, prehistoric males would be hunters, and successful ones needed to be stronger, faster, and more competitive than their counterparts. Men who failed at these tasks often didn't survive or find a mate. Females spent more time with children, tending to things closer to home, and gathering food. The strongest women were ones with a strong ability to keep mental maps and interact well with other people in a social context. These evolutionary differences, writes Gavora, lead neurobiologist Doreen Kimura to conclude that women, as a group are "more person-oriented than object-oriented," while men are more highly competitive. It should come to no one's surprise that, according to Kimura, while 23 percent of people who pursue a career in biology are women, only 5 percent in physics and astronomy are.

The predicament faced by universities sounds eerily similar: How do we get a higher percentage of women into hard sciences like physics or engineering? And once again, I'm part of the solution -- a failure as an Engineering student, I revised my academic plans and ended up with a "Want Fries With That?" degree in Economics. With my departure from the Engineering department, the percentage of females goes up. Sure, not one additional woman gets an engineering degree -- but Title IX's advocates don't seem to care.

What they do care about is what Gavora spends over 150 pages laying the groundwork for: Title IXers are fighting for androgyny. She argues, convincingly, that the OCR and other usual suspects hold the view that "all girls and women and all boys and men are equally interested in and capable of playing lacrosse, excelling in physics, or scoring 1600 on the SAT." A failure to reach this goal, Gavora states, is considered by Title IXers as "prima facie proof of illegal discrimination." Ridiculous? Yes, but that's how the law applies. Incredibly, universities now have incentive to seek out male students who are pathologically lazy; athletes, academic achievers, and social butterflies each may cause the university to be on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Advocates are fooling themselves into thinking that their demands help women get a leg up on gender equality in athletics, engineering, and everything else. But hey, I'm glad to lend my shoulders -- just don't ask me to get off the couch.