The U.S. Education Department has finally decided to reform slightly its draconian interpretation of Title IX. That’s the federal law forbidding sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds. It’s a law that, thanks to pressure from feminist ideologues and silly rulings from the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, has morphed into a legal monstrosity whose main effect has been to cut college athletic programs for men.

Last week the Education Department posted on its website a clarification of its regulations stating that one way colleges can demonstrate that they are in compliance with Title IX is to administer an online survey of undergraduate women to determine whether they have any unmet sports needs. If responses to the survey show disinterest in adding new athletic programs for women, or if students don’t respond at all, the department will deem the school to have met its guidelines. That replaces the department’s prior requirement that colleges establish new sports programs for women — which for colleges on tight budgets means cutting men’s programs — if there is “potential” interest in the women’s sports, even if most women on campus don’t show any actual interest.

As might be expected, the self-appointed guardians of women’s rights are already screaming about Bush administration perfidy. In an interview with the New York Times, Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center called the clarification “a brazen effort” to skirt long-standing rules.

As an editorial in the Washington Examiner explains:

“Greenberger is correct about the “longstanding.” In 1979, the department issued a three-way test that effectively gave colleges the Hobson’s choice of either setting gender quotas for funding sports or expanding women’s athletic programs at the expense of cutting men’s programs…

“Trouble is, 56 percent of college undergraduates these days are female, but no college has ever been able to coax out 56 percent female participation in its athletic programs, no matter how many new kinds of female sports teams it has added: soccer, basketball, lacrosse, you name it. For one thing, many female undergrads today are older and may lack the time or energy of kids.

“Thanks to a 1975 Education Department ruling– and hectoring by such groups as the Women’s Sports Foundation– physical activity that isn’t primarily competitive doesn’t count as an athletic activity. That rules out numerous noncompetitive athletic activities many women prefer. That includes dance, even though ballet is as grueling with as much physical training as any sport. Also sidelined are individual or group athletic activities from yoga to aerobics.

“So most colleges have simply opted to meet the guidelines by killing men’s teams. Not football or basketball, because those make money. Instead, they’ve cut swimming, diving, and gymnastics. More than 360 men’s indoor track and cross-country running teams have disappeared from colleges, and more than 120 men’s wrestling teams over the past 15 years. Last year the University of Maryland announced a different strategy for complying with Title IX: counting cheerleading as a sport on the ground that it’s popular with women and it requires physical stamina and acrobatics. Maryland is now in trouble with the feminist mafia.”

“After decades of this madness, Bush’s Education Department has issued a realistic, interest-based nondiscrimination standard. Now, not only might male students get back lost athletic programs, but women might no longer have to conform to male definitions of sport.”