By Fred Hashimoto
(This is one in a continuing series of stories about the impact on men's collegiate swimming programs of the misinterpretation of Title IX by university administrators.)
This is the story of what happened with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the University of New Mexico. A big message to universities is: cutting men's swimming to gain Title IX compliance might gain you nothing. In fact, it can cost you a lot in resolving complaints and implementing reform
On March 23, 2000, President Gordon of the University of New Mexico (UNM) signed a Commitment to Resolve (CTR) letter with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education. UNM resolved to come into compliance with Title IX regulations within three years. This agreement between UNM and OCR resulted from an investigation by OCR of gender and athletics at UNM, which was prompted by a complaint to OCR after UNM dropped three men's
sports in June, 1999.
The message to UNM and other institutions with similar,significant disproportionality (in this case, relatively very low numbers of women in inter-collegiate athletics) is: the best way to gain Title IX compliance is through adequately saturating the
interests and abilities of women athletes on campus. This is what Title IX is about. Eliminating several men's sports last year in order to gain a few percentage points towards proportionality did nothing to improve UNM's Title IX status.
If sports are dropped for significant financial reasons, that is another matter. However, men's swimming, which was cut, had cost the University only about ten-thousand dollars per year. Furthermore, UNM turned down the offer of a multi-million dollar endowment fund to continue the three dropped sports of swimming,gymnastics and wrestling.
For UNM, the implications of committing to resolve Title IX issues are:
a) the athletic interests and abilities of under-graduate women at UNM will be seriously addressed. A survey of undergraduates later this year will be the first step; and
b) although the men's sports of swimming, gymnastics and wrestling are gone, (more) men's sports need not be dropped in order to reach Title IX compliance.
If UNM chooses not to fully address women's athletic interests and abilities, then it must eliminate men's positions and sports to gain Title IX compliance. Approximately 230 more men–probably
involving many teams–will need to be eliminated. This would severely damage the University's overall athletic program. However, OCR is saying that UNM doesn't have to go that route. UNM just needs to adequately address the athletic needs of women to
gain Title IX compliance.
On June 30, 1999, with little warning, UNM eliminated its men's swimming, gymnastics and wrestling programs despite significant pleas to retain the sports from students, alumni, present and past lettermen and faculty.
Throughout the "appeal" process, UNM repeatedly demonstrated that it had no consistent criteria or plan which it followed for eliminating the three men's Olympic sports.
On September 27, 1999, a group of faculty, alumni and student-athletes filed a complaint against UNM of discriminating against women in intercollegiate sports.
Reasons for doing that included:
a) UNM stated that it had no Title IX problem. This was hard to believe. On May 14, 1999, Bill McGillis, Senior Associate Athletic Director, told the UNM Board of Regents that UNM had no Title IX problem. The claim to OCR would have that organization decide
whether UNM was Title IX compliant;
b) during the OCR investigation and follow-up, UNM would hopefully declare how it was going to address its
disproportionality. That would help student-athletes, coaches and perhaps prospective student-athletes plan ahead. For example, if a program is to be dropped, then the student-athletes and coaches in that sport would be able to plan in advance what they should do.
Also, high school athletes in that sport might not want to enroll at the University which won't offer it; and
c) OCR's response to UNM's issue would be helpful to institutions similar to UNM with respect to gender disproportionality in athletics.