Take Bemidji State University, for example. After a compliance review by a Title IX consultant, the school is considering cutting its men’s track and field team to comply with proportionality’s demands. Similarly, rumors are swirling that the University of Delaware’s men’s track and field program (including cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field—affecting 115 athletes) is on the chopping block because the school is not proportional. Currently 58% of the student body is female, while only 47% of Delaware’s athletes are female.
Cutting men’s teams is hardly in women’s interests, and it does nothing to improve the relations between the sexes on campus. That’s why it’s imperative that schools move away from the one-size-fits-all system of proportionality. Fortunately, Western Illinois University offers an alternative model worth emulating.
Back in 2005, the Bush administration issued guidelines instructing schools on how to comply with Title IX through student interest surveys. It is a straight-forward and fair approach – ask students what sports they want to (and have the skills to) play and build an athletics program that meets those interests. The system is built around student input and allows schools more flexibility in their programming.
Western Illinois University is the first school to work publically with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to comply with Title IX via interest surveys. Schools were likely resistant to using surveys until this point because of the large backlash from interest groups who threatened to sue any school that attempted to rely on interest surveys to demonstrate Title IX compliance. But proponents of true gender equity should applaud WIU’s initiative. After all, the real goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. It should be of no greater concern that there are fewer women playing sports than it is that there are fewer men taking part in campus theater or arts programs—so long as everyone is given equal opportunity to participate.
Using interest surveys offers a commonsense alternative to proportionality’s rigid standards and lessons the pressure on schools to cut men’s programs. More importantly, the surveys allow schools to take student interests into account for the first time. Students deserve to have a place at the negotiating table.
So bravo, WIU for leading the way forward. Let’s hope that other schools follow suit.