NINE YEARS AGO, Congress overwhelmingly N approved a law banning sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal money. The law, which came to be known as Title IX, has had remarkable impact on opening up opportunities for women in academic programs, in athletics and the professional schools, according to a report issued Sunday by the presidentially appointed National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs. And Title IX, as one might have guessed, has become a target of the Reagan administration and such Hill conservatives as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
The key provision of Title IX states that no one, on the basis of sex, shall be "excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." As it has been implemented, Title IX has changed discriminatory procedures in admissions, financial aid, extracurricular activities (including athletics, health services, counseling programs, dormitory rules and other campus regulations) and opened up sex-stereotyped courses such as nursing, home economics and shop to both sexes.
The National Advisory Council reported that Title IX has contributed to major improvements in every level of American education. Half of our population is better educated than it was. Half of the population is more athletic than it was. Half of the population now has the same access to scholarships and loans as the other half.
The leverage for all these changes has been the billions of federal dollars that go to schools in lunch subsidies, grants, loans, scholarships, contracts and vocational education, and it is here that opponents of Title IX are trying to gut it. Hatch has proposed a bill that would narrow Title IX protections to those programs specifically funded by federal dollars, rather than to any institution that receives any federal dollars.
Bernice Sandler, a member of the National Advisory Council who has analyzed the impact of Hatch's bill for the Association of American College's Project on the Status and Education of Women, says that the amount of money authorized in 1982 for programs that would be considered directly funded would amount to only 4 percent of the $13 billion that currently goes to universities and colleges in the form of financial aid, research contracts and grants. Since most programs do not receive direct financial aid, discrimination would no longer be prohibited in extracurricular activities, athletics, housing, and the entire range of academic activities unless a class is directly funded by a federal grant.
Under Hatch's bill, the more than $6 billion authorized for student loans, aid, and scholarships in 1982 would not be considered "financial assistance" to the schools. Holly Knox, director of the Project on Equal Education Rights, says these student loans are the biggest source of federal money for colleges and universities. "Mostly they go to low-income students and they turn it over to the college they go to so it becomes part of their tuition payment. The university can use that money any way it wants to." These funds, then, indirectly subsidize any number of university programs. "To say a critical source of federal funding shouldn't count for protecting women's rights in higher education is outrageous," says Knox.
The National Advisory Commission found that Title IX has had only limited success in remedying discriminatory employment patterns that still pervade education. While a third of America's professional women are employed in education, according to Knox, Hatch's bill would drop the ban on sexual discrimination in employment in educational institutions that receive federal funds.
Hatch, and those who would weaken Title IX by rewriting the federal regulations implementing it, argue that they want to reduce the role of the federal government in education and eliminate onorous requirements that might have been necessary 15 years ago but now work to the detriment of a student body. But in the absence of the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX is the only legal protection that women have in an educational system that practiced a wide variety of discriminatory practices before the '70s. Some of those practices continue. It is a law that works: The National Advisory Council has been able to document a wide variety of educational rights that half the population now enjoys since it was passed.
There is nothing that we, as a society, can gain from having our tax dollars subsidize even indirectly an educational institution that discriminates against half of the society. How young women are educated will have a profound impact on their careers and many aspects of their personal lives. To remove the federal requirement that tax dollars go only to schools that do not discriminate against young women is not an exercise in conservative restraint of the federal government. It is an exercise in conservative irresponsibility toward the well-being of women.