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Interview With Scott Palmer, Christine Stolba

Aired June 30, 2002 - 11:19   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, hearings will be held in Washington this week on the future of Title IX. It's been 30 years since the introduction of the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally assisted educational programs.

A closer look now at the role of Title IX in sports.

From Washington, Scott Palmer, the former deputy assistant secretary of the United States Department of Education, and Christine Stolba, a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum.

Thanks for joining us.


WHITFIELD: Well, Christine, I want to begin with you. On this 30th anniversary year of a breakthrough for so many female athletes on the professional level and college level, is it appropriate and even necessary for there to be hearings in Washington to try to make some modifications on Title IX?

CHRISTINE STOLBA, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM: Absolutely. I think 30 years into this implementation of this statute, what we've found is that there've been some unintended consequences, and the people who are paying the price of those consequences are nonrevenue male sports.

We've lost about 80,000 slots for nonrevenue male sports -- wrestlers, not football players -- wrestlers, golfers, divers, swimmers -- and I think that was not the intent of the statute. No one wants to put girls against boys.

WHITFIELD: Why is Title IX to blame for that? How do we know that that is the culprit?

STOLBA: Well, unfortunately, through misguided regulation and a few bad court decisions, this is what schools have found themselves ended up doing, is cutting these sports.

I think this is a good time to stop and ask, well, maybe we should have a debate about why this happened, and figure out ways to change that. WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Scott, at issue is a three-part test. What exactly is that three-part test? And how does -- is that perhaps part of the problem?

PALMER: Well, the three-part test establishes three different ways, separate avenues, that institutions can show compliance with Title IX, in terms of offering equal opportunity in athletics.

First, they can show that they're offering opportunities that are substantially proportionate to male and female enrollment.

Second, and totally separately, they can show that they have a history of increasing athletic opportunities for the under-represented sex, generally women, over time.

And third, and separate still, they can show that they're meeting the interests, the athletic interests, of both men and women on campus, regardless of any disparity that might exist.

It's actually a very flexible standard. And so, while we've heard this criticism, the fact is the standard, based on my experience as a department official, and again now as someone who advises universities and states, is generally one that allows substantial flexibility, has been in place for nearly 20 years, has had an extremely positive effect, has been upheld by courts, and actually affords substantial flexibility to institutions to comply with Title IX.

WHITFIELD: Are you in agreement that men's sports have been sacrificed because there is room being made for women's sports?

PALMER: I think there are challenges in every case, but as a broad proposition, I don't agree. I actually think that, generally, that comes from misperceptions of the law and how it's enforced.

For example, OCR did an analysis during my tenure about how many cases have been handled, and how they have been handled under Title IX in athletics, and what we found was nearly 75 percent of the cases had been handled under prongs two or three, which have nothing to do with proportionality and indeed cutting men's sports would not help you comply with those standards. So, in actual...

WHITFIELD: Is it your concern that Title IX is on the verge of being reversed? That in order to try and equal the playing field for men now, that perhaps some of the women's sports will be falling by the wayside?

PALMER: I don't think there's any interest in reversing Title IX. Remember, Title IX applies very broadly to not only athletic programs, but academic and extra-curricular activities. It's had a substantially positive impact for men and women, especially women. I don't think there's danger in it being reversed.

I think people are concerned in some areas about the first prong of this three part test. Once again, I think you need to look at the standard as a whole, and how it really functions in enforcement. I think a lot can be done in working with universities and states to help them understand all of the options that are available.

But I don't think the standard is something that needs to be revisited.

WHITFIELD: So, Christine, what are your recommendations to support equal number of sports or other extracurricular activities, for both men and women.

STOLBA: Well, I think we need to be a little bit more flexible in how we measure equality, and particularly how we measure student interest. Because we focus now, I think, on making sure that the percentage of girls in the larger student body mirrors that on the athletic teams, but I think what we could do is use polling data, for example, and make sure that the schools are meeting the interest, without having as our standard absolutely statistical parity.

Because the truth is, at the high school level, for example, the only extracurricular activity where boys outnumber girls is athletics. In everything else, honor society, yearbook, band, debate society, student government, girls outnumber boys. So I think we want to be very careful to avoid using this rigid standard of statistical parity to measure equality.

WHITFIELD: Christine, is part of the argument as well that you've got organizations like the Women's Tennis Association, you've got WUSA, women's soccer, WNBA basketball -- we're seeing a great success and a resurgence of professional athletes involving women.

And the argument now being made that, you know, women's sports are finding that they're getting greater ticket sales, they're finding endorsements that are competitive with professional men's players. This is perhaps an avenue in which to stunt the growth of female professional athletes.

STOLBA: Well, I don't think anyone wants to see that happen, but I do think we should e careful about assuming that men and women have the same level of interest in sports.

I would point out that the WNBA's fan base is still largely male. So women aren't watching sports as fans at quite the level that men are.

That might change, but again, that's a cultural shift. That's not really something we should try to legislate.

WHITFIELD: Well, Scott, what concerns do you have that the message that's being sent to young women who are interested in sports, on the school-age level, before they even get to college?

You know, athleticism is perhaps a ticket for so many young women in order to get to college, and here this message is now being sent that there may be some modifications potentially in Title IX.

PALMER: Well, I think, once again, the message to women is, the huge success of Title IX and the huge opportunities that are available to women that weren't there before in athletics and other areas. I have a little problem with Christine's point about the interest issue, because remember, under prong 3, institutions can always assess interest and make sure that that's how they're complying with the law, even if in fact women are less interested.

But I think we should be cautious, and in hearings earlier this week, Senator Birch Bayh, the former senator who was really one of the main architects of Title IX, talked about how that was the same argument that was made at the time of Title IX's enactment, that women just weren't interested in athletics.

So I think clearly, as you said, with the WNBA and the WUSA and I'm proud to be one of the male fans, so I think we need to be cautious about overstating that, though certainly meeting interest is one way to comply.

WHITFIELD: All right. Scott Palmer and Christine Stolba, thank you very much for joining us, from Washington.

PALMER: Thank you.

STOLBA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be watching the developments of any modifications of Title IX beginning this week in Washington.




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