WASHINGTON – When Bernice Sandler set out in 1969 to change the law on gender equity in education,the implications for athletics did not cross her mind. The mission was academic – and personal.
Outrage at her own experiences as a university instructor fueled her push for the 1972 gender equity legislation known as Title IX,which bans sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding.
In a report released last month on “Title IX at 35,” the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education concludes that women have not reached employment parity in university-level academics and athletics,despite progress since Sandler's journey began four decades ago.
Back then,Sandler taught part time in the counseling and personnel services department at the University of Maryland,where she received a doctorate. When she was overlooked for seven full-time faculty positions,a male faculty friend explained that she “came on too strong” for a woman. Crushed,she accepted his comment until her husband suggested the cause was sex discrimination.
The rejection and subsequent research spurred Sandler to file federal complaints,in conjunction with the Women's Equity Action League,to address sex discrimination at 250 colleges and universities in a precursor to Title IX.
“Everybody thinks of this as the athletic law,” she said. “It's much more than that.”
The 79-year-old achieved her original goal but said university employment practices still leave plenty to be desired for women.
U.S. Department of Education statistics compiled for the report show that the rate of women holding full professorships has tripled since 1970,from 8.7 percent to 26.7 percent in the 2005-06 academic year. Women constituted 15.1 percent of associate professors and 19.4 percent of assistant professors in 1970,compared to 40.5 percent and 47.5 percent in 2006.
Women hold 45 percent of college and university tenure-track faculty positions and 53 percent of non-tenure-track spots,according to the report.
In the 1970s,many people attributed the low numbers to a “pipeline problem,” suggesting that few women were acquiring the academic qualifications required for faculty and administrative positions,Sandler said,adding that the argument carries little weight today.
In the early 1970s,four in 10 master's degree recipients were women and fewer than two in 10 doctorate recipients were women,according to a 2006 study of gender equity indicators by the American Association of University Professors. By 2004,women earned six in 10 master's degrees and half of all doctorates,but the percentage of women in high-level faculty and administrative positions had not increased proportionately.
“The pattern is still identical to when I testified on the Title IX hearings” before Congress,Sandler said. “The higher the rank,the fewer the women.”
The differences are also economic,according to AAUP.
Since the late 1970s,when the professors' association began collecting salary data,female faculty members have made an average of 81 cents for every dollar earned by male faculty members. Associate and assistant professors make nearly as much as their male counterparts.
The gaps between men and women increase at the most prestigious universities and for women in math and science fields.
Harvard University got caught in the crosshairs on both points in early 2005,when then-President Lawrence Summers suggested that women might be innately less capable than men of succeeding in science and math careers.
His comments drew attention to Harvard's arts and sciences faculty,where the rate of women receiving tenure had dropped noticeably. Backlash from that staff led to Summers' resignation in June 2006,and one year ago,the university named Drew Gilpin Faust as its first female president.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology appointed its first female president,Susan Hockfield,in 2004,two years after turning the limelight on its own employment practices and finding discrimination against women.
Gender disparities also persist in collegiate athletic hiring practices,experts say.
Title IX prompted an increase in the number of women's collegiate teams and in the number of female coaches. But men continue to dominate in coaching positions,according to a 2008 survey of National Collegiate Athletic Association member schools that offer women's sports.
This year,four in every five head coaches is male,according to the survey by R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter,who have conducted the survey for three decades.
Two in five coaches of women's teams are women,a drop from 1972,when women coached 90 percent of female teams.
Opportunities for female players,or the lack thereof,have generated the most public attention,but high-profile lawsuits are shedding more light on the gender breakdown among coaches,said Erin Buzuvis,assistant professor of law at Western New England College School of Law.
Buzuvis co-writes a weblog about Title IX and athletics and said she and her colleagues have followed about a dozen lawsuits filed by female coaches over alleged retaliatory action and Title IX enforcement.
The most recent case involves Florida Gulf Coast University and Jaye Flood,its most successful volleyball coach. Flood filed a federal lawsuit in January alleging sex discrimination and retaliation by FGCU. The school fired her a week later after concluding she'd had an inappropriate relationship with a student,Florida newspapers reported.
The case echoes the themes of allegations in other places,such as Fresno State University and the University of Nevada-Reno.
Skeptics question whether such cases are representative of the overall atmosphere in collegiate athletics. Buzuvis' answer is an emphatic yes.
“There's still a very strong old boys club that operates in those realms,and that affects women both in getting hired and the conditions of employment that are conducive to continued employment,” she said.
Sandler,the longtime gender equity proponent,said it's the remnants of that club in academics and athletics that have kept her away from the full-time teaching career to which she had aspired. Instead,weeks from her 80th birthday,she's still giving speeches and consulting as a senior scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington,fighting the Title IX fight that she expected to end decades ago.
“If anyone had told me in 35 years I would be working on Title IX,I would have been absolutely astonished,” she said. “I really was naïve. I thought in one or two years,we might fix everything.”