Much of the debate on John Stossel’s segment on Title IX last night centered on student interest (you can catch the programming replaying several times over the weekend on Fox Business if you missed it the first time around). Title IX’s proportionality demands a lot of opportunities for women — if 57 percent of students are women, then 57 percent of athletes must also be women. But there is a lot of evidence that suggests that men are more interested in sports than women — they exercise more, watch sports on TV more, attend more sporting events, play more intramural sports in college, play more recreational sports growing up, etc. So, as we’ve pointed out here at IWF many a time, perhaps such a rigid gender ratio isn’t the best way to be allocating athletic opportunities.
There is usually a lot of push back to that argument. The other side would say that women are less interested in sports only because they have been denied opportunities historically. In other words, if you build it, they will come. History suggests that doesn’t work out as neatly as Title IX supporters would like it to. For example, when Brown University was sued for not providing enough opportunities to female athletes in the nineties, the school had more than 80 funded, but unfilled roster spots for female athletes. They had built it, but the women didn’t come.
But, as clear cut as I think the evidence in this argument may be, there is an easy way to settle the student interest argument: survey the students. If schools had a clear cut way to survey students they could comply with Title IX via prong three of the 1979 compliance test by showing that their athletic programs are designed to meet the interest and abilities of the underrepresented sex (it would be better if they had to consider the interest and abilities of all students, but that’s an argument for a different day). This was the logic under the Bush Administration, who developed a Model Survey for schools to use to prove Title IX compliance. It’s a good approach on many levels: it puts the preferences of students over the preferences of bureaucrats and lawyers and it allows for more localized policy decisions rather than a one-size-fits-all gender quota. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration doesn’t like this approach. That’s why last year they rescinded the Model Survey, effectively silencing the voices of student athletes in the process. What a shame.