This Week in the Archive: A History of Title IX Controversy

by Katie Brennan

Kaitlin Brennan is a senior from Fairfield, Connecticut majoring in PPEL and Rhetoric & Communication Studies, contributing to the Race & Racism Project through the Fall 2017 RHCS 412 Digital Memory & the Archive course. The Race & Racism project has helped her think about race not only on the University’s campus but in the city of Richmond in general. She has become especially interested in how the University has talked about race and gender equality to the public, including to its students.

In this post, I will focus on the December 3, 1981 article titled “Title IX Controversy Sparks Mortar  Board Forum,” found in the University of Richmond newspaper, The Collegian. Written by staff writer Pat Everett, the article described a Mortar Board sponsored forum held to discuss gender equality in University athletics. Everett indicated that, as a result of a pending court decision on whether the University’s athletic programs violated the sex equality law, students received few concrete answers from administrators. William Leftwich, Vice President for student affairs and Title IX coordinator, as well as Elaine Yeates, chairman of the Board of Trustees’ Athletic Committee, hesitated to answer questions from female athletes. Additionally, the athletic director, Chuck Boone, and the women’s athletic director, Ruth Goehring, gave few explicit answers due to additional pending litigation between the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Despite this, administrators still maintained that progress had been made in the women’s athletic department since 1979, citing examples such as an increase in scholarships available to women and athletic success of female teams, particularly the women’s basketball team. Female athletes at the forum pressed administrators on issues of inequalities in athletic budgets, treatment of athletes with respect to travel, hotels, transportation, restaurants, and recruiting, as well as the number of available scholarships. Peg Hogan, coach of the women’s swim team, suggested that everyday issues, such as lack of heating in the Keller Hall locker room and availability of practice times, depicted obvious gender inequalities. However, Goering suggested that women were not always worse off than men and, in some ways, might even have been better off: “We have a law that says we must be treated fairly, the men don’t.”

I selected this article because, as a female student-athlete, I was interested in the way in which gender inequality in collegiate sports, particularly at our University, was addressed prior to my own time here. What is most interesting about this article is the vague manner in which the lawsuit involving the University is discussed. The article indicates that “Title IX Controversy” provoked the forum, yet few direct answers were provided as a result of this controversy. It is quite possible that the contributor was unable to disclose any particular information regarding the lawsuit involving the University. However, given the significance of the Title IX controversy, it is surprising that the lawsuit is nearly skimmed over within the article.

The lawsuit involving the University is presented within the article as hindering administrators from providing direct answers, but, in reality, it holds far more significance. The lawsuit was provoked by an attempted investigation by the U.S. Department of Education against the University (Amaker, Civil Rights and the Reagan Administration, 67).

According to Justia US Law, the case was University of Richmond v. Bell, decided in 1982. Bell was the United States Secretary of Education at the time. The University brought the lawsuit after attempts by the Department of Education to investigate allegations brought in February of 1981 that the athletic department had violated the equality of sex law within its athletic department (Suggs, A Place on the Team: Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX, 85). The University was asked by the Office for Civil Rights to provide records of its “sports operations, including details of budgets, policies, practice schedules, and modes of transportation, as well as lists of all teams, locker rooms, and weight and training facilities” (Suggs, 85). However, the University claimed that because it was a private institution and received no federal funding for sports, the Department of Education had no jurisdiction over the matter (Suggs, 86). To further this point, the University filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Education, and District Judge Warriner ruled in favor of the University (Suggs, 85). As a result, no investigation took place.

These particulars to the lawsuit that the Collegian contributor could not or simply did not include are important to a complete understanding of the context of the forum. While Goehring, the women’s athletic director, suggested at the event that the implementation of the equal sex law improved the treatment of women, further research qualifies her statement by revealing the contingencies of the implementation of the law with respect to federal funding or lack thereof. It is interesting to consider the contradiction of the University promoting a forum to address gender equality in athletics while simultaneously fighting for its right to avoid Title IX obligations. This leads me to wonder how intentional administrators of the athletic department — or University administrators more broadly — truly were about improving gender equality within University athletics.

As anticipated by the University’s resistance towards Title IX compliance, issues of gender equality in University athletics continued to persist after University v. Bell. Later Collegian articles from 1983 and  1998 indicate that the same issues were being discussed many years after the case. The 1983 article exposes existing gender inequalities with respect to scholarships and team budgets, among other disparities. The article concludes by referencing University v. Bell, though still with astonishingly little detail. Referencing the 1981 letter sent by the Women’s Athletic Council to the Department of Education, the article reads, “The University responded with a counter suit, claiming it is not a federally funded institution. The court agreed with the argument and decided in favor of the University. An investigation into discrimination in athletics at UR was never conducted.” At this point in time, it is difficult to believe that there was no accessible information regarding the suit. However, if so, that is problematic in itself.

The later 1998 article indicates that some strides had been taken to “level the playing field” for female athletes, namely by cutting some male scholarship teams from University athletics. The article reports backlash from members of the University, particularly male athletes, for ending male athletic programs.

As a female athlete at the University, it is interesting to learn about the University’s history of gender inequality in athletics and compare this history to present circumstances. It is clear that equality has drastically improved since the 1980s, though some inequalities can be argued to linger. What is more interesting to me, however, is the University’s defensive and counterattacking response to attempts to investigate its treatment of female athletics, while simultaneously maintaining a claim to its pursuit of gender equality within athletics. This contradiction exposes the need to examine institutional claims of reform, scrutinizing the possible distinction between expressing concern and taking action.