WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday repealed a policy that required colleges and universities to rely on an e-mail survey it said wasn't a fair way of gauging women's interest in sports.
Announcing the changes in regulations popularly called Title IX, Vice President Joe Biden said that ending the single-survey method was intended to make sure that schools use more thorough tests to ensure fair participation of both sexes in athletics.
"We are going to make sure women in colleges are given the opportunities in the colleges that they deserve," Biden said at an event at George Washington University, noting that several members of the U.S. women's Olympic ice hockey team were in the audience.
"If 40 years from now we need Title IX, we have failed," he said. Title IX, first enacted in 1972, mandates that educational institutions receiving federal funds can't discriminate in athletics by gender.
A letter from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights said that the George W. Bush-era policy violated nondiscriminatory methods of assessing student interest in athletics. The repealed policy was enacted in 2005.
The survey based on the 2005 policy was sent only to women and measured their interest in sports. If not many filled it out, schools were allowed to conclude that they lacked interest in sports.
A 1996 guideline from the Education Department had said that surveys can't be the only method of gauging interest in a sport. The National Collegiate Athletic Association had long objected to the method and welcomed today's announcement.
Bonnie Morris, a professor of women's studies at George Washington University, said that many people tend to delete surveys in e-mail, and a lack of response was interpreted as a lack of interest. She also cited a bias factor.
"We do have a bias here that women are not as interested in sports as men, and so we need to ask them one by one," Morris said.
The survey method forced some colleges to close down girls sports programs, said Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation. The nonprofit group, based in Washington, advocates for equal opportunities for men and women.
"The Bush administration during the eight years in office defunded the Office of Civil Rights that enforces the Title IX," Smeal said.
While Morris hailed the change in Title IX, she said real change to ensure fair representation can be brought about more by promoting men's and women's teams equally, scheduling women's sporting events when they're likely to attract more sponsors, ensuring better facilities and workout times for women, and saving money from excesses in some men's sports.
In a report earlier this month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said that some colleges and universities are dropping men's sports programs to reach Title IX compliance of equal resources for men's and women's sports.
On Tuesday Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that Title IX has "not starved men's teams. The number of men's and women's team has only grown," he said.
At George Washington University, Scott Reed, the head coach of the men's and women's water polo teams, said that Title IX has created a lot of opportunities.
"We wouldn't have a women's water polo team had it not been for Title IX," Reed said.
Of the 22 varsity sports at GWU, 12 are women's sports.
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