Title IX turns 50 – a Q&A with law professor Tammi Walker

By Andy Ober, University Communications


Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972.

Title IX, landmark legislation designed to eliminate gender discrimination in education, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Since its enactment on June 23, 1972, Title IX has been subject to debate, interpretation and change, but it has also opened the door to more opportunities for women in education and sport.

Tammi Walkerassociate professor at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, spoke on the creation, evolution, and impact of Title IX.

Tammi Walker, Associate Professor, James E. Rogers College of Law

Tammi Walker, Associate Professor, James E. Rogers College of Law

Q: A lot of people think of Title IX only in relation to athletics. What is Title IX and how does it differ from this common perception?

A: Title IX is a federal law enacted in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education. Most people think Title IX is the law that increased opportunities for girls in sports, and it is. But, it is also responsible for much more. Title IX broadly prohibits sex discrimination in education, with some exceptions. The main text of title IX only has 37 words. It does not define “sex” or “discrimination”. Yet Title IX requires schools that receive federal funding to be free from discrimination based on sex, which can include sexual orientation and gender identity. And Title IX encompasses protection against unequal treatment in recruitment, admission, financial aid, athletics, discipline, employment discrimination based on sex, and sexual misconduct, between others. With the passage of Title IX, Congress wanted to avoid supporting discriminatory practices with federal resources. He also wanted to effectively protect individuals against discrimination based on sex. Educational institutions that do not comply with Title IX may lose federal funding, which includes the ability to receive student loans, research grants and more.

Q: Has Title IX evolved over the years?

A: Title IX has changed significantly over the past five decades, but not in the way you might think. The 37 words have remained virtually the same, but the meaning has undergone quite a metamorphosis. Judicial interpretation and instructions and guidance from the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX explain the changes in scope. For example, agency regulations issued in 1975 specified that Title IX extended to athletic participation even though there is no reference to “athletics” in the main text. Similarly, the wording of Title IX indicating whether individuals could sue schools to enforce its regulations was unclear. Nevertheless, in 1979, the United States Supreme Court in Cannon v. University of Chicago determined that Title IX implied such a right. Likewise, the Supreme Court paved the way for victims of sexual harassment to receive damages from schools in a decision 20 years after Title IX was passed.

Q: Have recent administrations continued to change the interpretation of Title IX?

A: The most dramatic changes have taken place in recent years. The Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education provides advice and enforces Title IX through investigations and compliance reviews. Under the Obama administration, the OCR required schools to adopt specific procedures, emphasizing transparency and due process for students involved in sexual misconduct on campus. Possible Title IX Violations Investigated by OCR increased from 55 in May 2014 to 496 in 2017. President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has proposed regulations that arguably narrow the scope of behaviors Title IX can address. The DeVos regulations, among others, formalized the definition of sexual harassment and limited actionable conduct to that perpetrated by persons in the United States. And the OCR under DeVos stressed the need to also protect victims and students accused of sexual harassment. President Biden took office just eight months after the new regulations were announced. Biden called for the release of new guidelines and began the process of making even more changes to Title IX regulations. Proposed new regulations exist but have not been made public. Changes likely include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Q: So, 50 years later, what has been the impact of Title IX?

A: Describing the effects of Title IX is like trying to prove something negative. It’s almost impossible to characterize all the results we see and those we don’t see. But, I can explain the intent of the law. Title IX was an effort to fill a gap after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally drafted by Rep. Edith Green of Oregon, the original goal of the legislation was to remove barriers for women in post-secondary education. Specifically, Rep. Green wanted to end quotas limiting women’s admission to law and medical schools. When the bill was introduced in the Senate, Indiana’s Birch Bayh clarified that “our national policy should prohibit gender discrimination at all levels of education.”

Opportunities for women to participate in sports have undoubtedly increased dramatically over the past 50 years. However, Title IX does not require parity. Few college athletic directors are women, and most football, basketball, and baseball coaches are men. Since the 1990s, most bachelor’s degrees have been awarded to women. Yet women with a bachelor’s degree earn 74 cents on the dollar compared to men with the same degree. Women now outnumber men in medical, law and graduate studies. However, few women hold leadership positions within these professions. So, perhaps we should ask ourselves if Title IX, as the primary federal legislation to address gender equality in education, has gone far enough.

Arizona Athletics will celebrate the Title IX anniversary with a field day, keynote speaker and panel June 23 at the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center. The day will begin with sports activities that children in kindergarten through eighth grade can participate in alongside Arizona student-athletes. The keynote speaker for the morning will be Rocky the Rose, who held various leadership positions with Arizona Athletics for 35 years. A lunchtime panel will include former Arizona softball player and current ESPN softball analyst Jenny Dalton-Hill, women’s basketball coach Adia Barnesand John LaceyDirector of Alumni Career and Professional Development within the University Alumni and Development program and 2009 NCAA Woman of the Year.

The department has also created a web page presenting interviews, photos, facts and figures celebrating the achievements of female athletes in college.

Additional information

University Title IX Resources:

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