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This year marks the 40th anniversary of the adoption of Title IX, which requires “gender equity” in higher education. To read the blogs on this subject, one might think that Title IX was exceeded only by the Emancipation Proclamation in its social importance. It is common to praise Title IX for the massive increase in the number of women who participate in intercollegiate athletics, and to note that women now number a clear majority of the students in higher education, with around 58 percent, give or take, of the total enrollment.
Notwithstanding this sunny picture, Title IX should be repealed. More concretely, there are two insuperable problems with the law, which should be fatal to these overblown claims. The first of these is that the champions of Title IX specialize in committing the fallacy of post hoc, propter hoc. Many of the changes that have happened in the past 40 years are to the better, but it hardly follows that they are the consequence of adopting Title IX. All sorts of individual and market forces have exerted their influence as well. Women are not inert. They can take, and they have taken, bold initiatives in their personal and professional lives. These actions, when summed up over many people and many years, will change the landscape in both athletic and academic disputes. Many of these trends started before Title IX was passed, including the decision of most major private colleges to go co-ed. There is no reason to think that these actions stopped dead in their tracks once Title IX was put in place in 1972.
The second difficulty with the argument is that the observed changes under Title IX have not all been to the good. In the area of athletics, there are ways to increase female participation without having to kill off male participation in sports: namely, devoting more resources to these activities. Most universities have administrations that are more than sympathetic to the claims of female athletes and there is no reason to think that they would spurn any well-conceived request for an expansion of a program, especially with the large female enrollments and the substantial number of women in high places in university administration.
Title IX, however, works in a manner far more insidious than these sensible voluntary actions done at the university level. The administrative interpretation of Title IX works to demand a parity in levels of participation by sex, which means that either many female athletes have to be added or many male athletes have to be cut out. The former becomes very expensive, given that the natural rate of participation in athletics is such that more men, wholly apart from brainwashing, prefer to participate in athletics than women. That is certainly what happens in intramurals.
It is also what happens given that football, wrestling, boxing and ice hockey are much more likely to attract male athletes than women. Female injury rates are higher than those for men in comparable sports, which helps explain their lower level of participation in activities that could prove harmful to their health. This point is acknowledged in professional sports, where women do not play five-set matches in tennis or 48-minute games in basketball. The owners and athletes know better.
Many feminist defenders of Title IX contend that this distribution is a function of some insidious form of social conditioning. They cannot accept the simple observation that men and women, given their different endowments, also have different preferences. Women are more likely to do ballet and dance than men, and no one thinks that this commendable preference indicates a fatal imbalance in our social order. But given that these preferences are in fact quite strong, the only way to force the system into equilibrium is to subsidize female athletics to the hilt and to penalize male athletes by the wholesale cutting of teams.
Thus, in the bizarro world of Title IX, it makes sense to give huge scholarships to fund a women’ s ice hockey team while eliminating a men’s swimming team whose eager athletes would happily clean out the pool for the change necessary to fund their program. There is no question that any given male athlete has far fewer opportunities for intercollegiate sports than any female athlete. The government manacles under Title IX have perpetuated wholesale distortions that are now impossible to remove from the system.
The larger lesson is that anti-discrimination laws do not stop discrimination. They allow the government to perpetuate the worst forms of discrimination by the use of public force. It is for this reason that one should be so worried about the mindless efforts of the Obama Administration to extend the proportionality requirements from sports in order to rectify the supposed imbalance in the sciences. There is no question that there are all sorts of gender differences in this area, but they are not evidence of any form of institutional discrimination. As Charlotte Allen writes:
When college women study science, they tend to gravitate toward biology–about 58 percent of all bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in biology go to women. In contrast, women earn some 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science and just over 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences and mathematics.
There is quite simply no rational account that explains why biology departments discriminate against men and math, engineering and physical science departments take after women. The same university administration oversees all departments, and most of them work overtime right now to add women in areas where they are underrepresented. The sensible explanations for these differences all relate to differences in preferences for degrees of abstraction that can easily be sex-linked. The differential rates of participation are thus evidence that the system works well, not that it is messed up beyond repair. But it is the peculiar genius of the Obama administration to buy into every trendy cliché about discrimination.
The consequences of this change in attitude could be truly catastrophic. There is a need for more people to go into science — and those had better be the best people. This new drive toward institutionalizing a federal quota system will substitute in women and minorities with inferior skills for the current men who fill these positions. No one knows whether it will force the biological sciences to go in reverse. Subsidies for women and minorities in the form of scholarships is not ideal in my view, but they are far less costly than the current Presidential infatuation with Title IX.
There is no need for yet another mindless government effort to use Title IX as an instrument of destruction for institutions that actually work. The President has already messed up the current economy with his uninformed economic policies. Now it looks like he is intent on wrecking the long-term capability for the United States to lead in education.His spiffy Ivy League credentials notwithstanding, his presidency has already proved all too costly to the nation. He need not add yet another misstep to his undistinguished term of office.