Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Slippery Rock settles--again

The gender equity case against Slippery Rock University that started in 2006 and was reopened last spring when some felt SRU was not meeting the settlement's requirements has settled again. The university has promised to improve the softball stadium, commit $300,000 more than in the original settlement toward improving women's athletics, and provide Title IX training for athletes, coaches, and administrators in the athletic department.
The re-settlement brings up a few interesting issues. First, SRU president Dr. Robert Smith said that it was easy to sign the settlement because everyone was working toward the same goal. But I have my doubts about the level of sincerity in this statement. He defended the poor quality of the new softball seating and the layout of said stadium which blocked certain views of the field for fans noting that he didn't think Title IX applied to the quality of the fans' experience. True. But fans in the stands affects the quality of the athletes' experience and nice facilities in which fans can see the entire field of play help get fans in the stands. There seems to be an underlying assumption that female athletes play purely for the love of the sport; that they could play in an empty stadium and still love the game. And maybe they could; but everyone likes fans. Additionally, the alleged inferior quality of the softball stadium, as compared to the baseball facilities, illustrates the argument plaintiffs used to reopen the case: that SRU remains a little weak in its commitment to gender equity. I don't know how administrators can claim they created a first-class facility when it does not equal the quality of its first-class baseball facility. Such a statement would seem to indicate that there are different standards for the men and women.
And second, Dr. Smith discussed the university's adherence to Title IX noting that they have been in compliance with prong one for two years. Women receive 56 percent of the athletic opportunities; a percentage equal to their representation in the undergraduate student body. While we applaud this change since the 2006 settlement, it provides a good opportunity to reiterate that Title IX compliance is not only about number of opportunities. An institution might meeting that one requirement of Title IX but failing miserably in providing things like quality coaching, quality competition, access to facilities, etc. While SRU does not appear to be failing miserably, we were pleased to see them sign this new settlement and recommit themselves to gender equity in their athletic department.