Advocacy group: PA colleges discriminate against women’s athletics

By Andrew Staub | Watchdog.org

Nine Pennsylvania universities have failed to provide female students with equal athletic opportunities required under Title IX, the Women’s Law Project alleged in a complaint filed Thursday with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Of the 14 schools within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville and Shippensburg have fallen short, the Women’s Law Project said.

“There is no excuse for the athletic disparities at these (PASSHE) member universities,” Terry Fromson, managing attorney for the Women’s Law Project, wrote in a letter to a PASSHE attorney. “Despite the fact that Title IX has obligated them to achieve gender equality for more than four decades, these universities have not undertaken genuine efforts to increase opportunities for or satisfy the athletic interests of their female students.”

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD: The Women’s Law Project has alleged that nine Pennsylvania schools have fallen short of Title IX requirements.

The schools haven’t provided athletic opportunities in proportion to the percentage of undergraduate females enrolled in the universities, according to the Women’s Law Project, which culled information from public reports, responses to open-records requests and the schools’ websites.

Title IX, enacted in 1972, prohibits federally funded education programs from discriminating on the basis of sex. That means schools must provide equal athletic opportunities, financial assistance and recruiting support.

Individual school spokespersons directed Watchdog.org to Kenn Marshall, the PASSHE spokesman, for comment about the complaint. He issued a statement on behalf of the nine schools, saying they take their Title IX responsibilities “very seriously.”

“Despite being faced with changing demographics in the state — which have resulted in relatively flat or even declining enrollments across the System — as well as significant, long-term financial challenges, all of the institutions have made progress toward achieving gender equity in the area of athletic participation,” Marshall said.

The Women’s Law Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, disagrees. Susan Frietsche, the organization’s senior staff attorney, said the schools are missing more than 900 athletic opportunities for female students.

Bloomsburg, for example, needs to add 182 athletic opportunities for women to equal the percentage of female undergraduates enrolled at the university.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania allocated 36 percent of financial aid to women’s teams, though females comprised more than 48 percent of the school’s unduplicated count of athletic participants.

In another case, Clarion in 2012-13 spent $22,525 on men’s recruitment, but just $10,203 on women’s recruitment — that despite women accounting for more than 47 percent of the athletic population and 60 percent of the full-time undergraduate enrollment.

That’s just a few snippets of the information the Women’s Law Project included in its complaint.

Now, the issue will be examined by the feds.

The Department of Education can withhold federal funding from schools that don’t comply with Title IX, but Frietsche isn’t aware of that happening before. Instead, it’s more likely an agreement could be reached to end any potential discrimination, she said.

Frietsche hopes that happens quickly in Pennsylvania, pointing to women’s rugby as an emerging sport that could be elevated to the varsity level to help address the issue. Still, she called it “disheartening” to continue to deal with disparities in opportunity.

“It sends a message to the female students that they aren’t as value as the male students, that female athletics is not as valued as male and that the school’s resources are principally for the male students, not the female students,” she said. “And that’s just a terrible, terrible message.”

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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