Joseph A. Califano, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, said yesterday that HEW will begin immediate acceleration of investigations into a logjam of sex discrimination complaints in school sports programs.
Califano said he will establish a special group to issue "interpretations which are necessary with respect to specific sports or some basic questions" about the application of an antibias law known as Title 9.
Although there may be a need for clarification on some unspecified matters, Califano cautioned that there are "many areas where (schools) know what compliance means."
Califano's remarks at a press conference yesterday came practically on the eve of tomorrow's deadline for compliance with the law by virtually all of the nation's colleges and secondary school systems.
The remarks also came in the midst of growing criticism from women's and educational groups that HEW has failed to enforce the 6-year-old law as it applies to athletics, specifically, and educational programs in general.
"I am spending this week to every college and university president in the country a little reminder that Title 9 . . . goes into effect Friday and that we intend to enforce that program," Califano said.
"I am putting college presidents in a position where none of them will be able to say they haven't had ample notice," he continued. "I am trying to move with the complaints we have more aggressively and I am setting up a special unit to move these (decisions on) athletic issues out."
Former HEW secretaries notified colleges and high school systems of their obligations under the 1972 law and updated those notices during the past three-year "adjustment period" for compliance. Elementary schools had to conform with the law tow years ago.
Title 9 part of a 1972 omnibus education bill, prohibits sex discrimination "under any education program of activity receiving federal financial assistance." Failure to comply could mean the loss of federal funds.
No colleges or school systems have lost funds.
Califano said he and David S. Tatel, director of HEW's office for civil rights, "took a look at the Title 9 athletic situation and I think it's far to say neither of us is satisfied (with enforcement)."
He said he has asked Tatel, Peter Libassi, HEW general counsel, and Cynthia Brown, deputy director for compliance and enforcement, to put together a special group to speed up investigations of athletic complaints and issue interpretations. Califano announced plans for such a group three months ago.
"There is a logjam here at the department," Califano said. "There's no question that the women are right about that and I would like to break that logjam beginning this summer."
HEW had 707 general Title 9 complaints from January, 1972, through last December, for an average 118 a year, he said. The department has reviewed and closed 326 complaints this year, he added.
Because of a large number of civil rights cases in other areas. Califano said, HEW has been hardpressed to keep pace with Title 9 complaints.
"They HEW could go through 90 to 95 percent of the complaints pending without making new policy decisions," said Margot Polivy, attorney for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
"What is so frustrating about (the lack of enforcement) is that the upperechelon of the office for civil rights is commited to enforcement. But they can't seem to get that place on track to effectuate it."
Carole Mushier, president-elect of AIAW, said HEW's backlog of Title 9 sports complaints woule be larger, but that people, in frustration, "have taken their complaints to human rights groups, the courts, anything else there is."
Referring to Califano's intention to write college presidents about Friday's deadline. Mushier said, "A reminder is superflous at this time, a fruitless gesture. I can't imagine a college president who isn't aware of the Title 9 deadline.
"Something must be done instead in terms of the schools which aren't complying."
The progress of Title 9 also is being keenly watched by the National Collegiate Athletics Association. Walter Byers, NCAA executive director, said it is too early to tell the impact of Title 9 on intercollegiate athletics.
"We've (the NCAA) literally not been into this thing. The impact is felt at the institutional level and they are adjusting to Title 9 on almost a campus-to-campus basis. There's no avowed set model they're following."
Many NCAA members initially feared that Title 9 would require equal spending on men's and women's sports and mounted a campaign against it.
"Today, as near as I can tell, there hasn't been a requirement of dollar-for-dollar," Byers said.
"I believe there is more pressure now from chief administrators of colleges for men's sports to make more money so the women's programs can be supported.It's a trend that does disturb me because there's enough pressure on men's sports now. Also, there have been men's sports discontinued at some colleges because of the financial pinch of Title 9.
"It's obviously stimulated growth for women's sports and that's positive. But we're in an adjustment period . . . and the long-range effect has yet to be determined."