Fairness: it’s one of the most prized values in American society. In our education system, fairness requires that schools and universities judge students on their merits and offer equal opportunities to all students. Yet fairness becomes a different measuring stick when it’s applied to gender issues on campus: one that’s used to prod women toward greater achievement and whack men. James Madison University’s (JMU) recent decision to eliminate ten sports teams is the latest example of the bizarre world of gender fairness on campus.
For more than three decades, colleges across the country have struggled to comply with the federal statute, Title IX, which banned discrimination in athletics. The law’s purpose was to encourage schools and universities to ensure that women, like men, had the opportunity to participate in sports. That’s a goal that Americans whole-heartedly support. It’s only fair, after all, that women enjoy the many pleasures and benefits of athletic participation.
Yet, in practice, Title IX now does more to squelch men’s athletics than to encourage female athletes. Consider that JMU’s athletic roster was already 50 percent men and 50 percent women before the recent cuts that were designed to comply with Title IX. Equal numbers of men and women athletes certainly sound fair. The problem for JMU is that 61 percent of their student body is female. To meet Title IX’s proportionality test—the most incontrovertible standard and therefore the least likely to yield a lawsuit—requires that at least 6 in 10 student-athletes be female.
James Madison University plans to eliminate seven men’s teams (archery, cross country, indoor and outdoor track, gymnastics, swimming and wrestling) and three women’s teams (archery, fencing, and gymnastics) in July. Just six men’s teams and twelve women’s teams will remain and the combined athletic rosters will magically become 61 percent female.Campus gender warriors would expect university women to celebrate. To the radical feminists who populate women’s studies programs around the country, this is the definition of women’s progress. There may be fewer female athletes next year, but men will be even worse off—a feminist victory!
Yet JMU coeds are reacting very differently. In an interview with the New York Times, Jennifer Chapman, a senior on the women’s cross country team, described members of the women’s team crying along with the men at learning the news of the men’s team’s elimination. Chapman helped organize a student protest that drew an estimated 400 participants. The New York Times article noted that JMU’s announcement had been followed by “a surprising number of female students denouncing Title IX.”
It should come as no surprise, however, that women are denouncing a law that has ended the sports careers of so many male athletes—their friends and teammates—not just at JMU, but at schools across the country. Earlier this year, Rutgers University cut five men’s teams (heavyweight and lightweight crew, fencing, swimming and tennis) along with women’s fencing. Last year, Fresno State eliminated men’s wrestling despite a pledge from alumni to completely fund the team. UCLA cut men’s swimming and gymnastics, teams that had produced more U.S. Olympians in their respective sports than any other school in the country. In recent years, more than ninety universities have eliminated men’s track and field, and more than twenty have cancelled wrestling.
Defenders of the existing Title IX regime will claim that JMU’s dramatic actions weren’t necessary to comply with the law. There are other ways schools can demonstrate their commitment to gender equality. Yet JMU was certainly adhering to the spirit of what constitutes fairness on gender issues on college campuses today. This should serve as a wake up call that it’s past time to end these gender wars and to embrace a conception of fairness that doesn’t penalize men.