Monday, July 25, 2011

Soon-to-Be-Coed College Plans to Retain Single Sex Classes

Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina is making some changes. Not only is it changing its name to William Peace University, it has decided to admit male undergrads for the first time in its history. According to this article in Inside Higher Ed, however, some classes will remain single-sex, though the President assures that no one will be denied access to a course, just sometimes a particular single-sex section. This raised some Title IX red flags to the reporter on this article, who contacted me and some other Title IX experts about whether this was legal. As I said to him, it seems to me like a difficult position to defend. By becoming coed, the college loses any claim to an exemption from Title IX on the basis of its single-sex tradition. Accordingly, it must comply with the law's prohibition against discrimination in all of its programs, and this includes classes, with limited exception for things like physical education, human sexuality, and choruses.

It is true that the Department of Education has in recent years promulgated regulations that permit additional exceptions by allowing single-sex education in core courses. But by their terms, these regulations only apply to K-12 education. Moreover, the exception they create is narrow -- the single-sex nature of the course be tailored to an important educational objective, which must be based on evidence and not assumptions and stereotypes about the way men and women learn. For both reasons, Peace College cannot rely on the single-sex education regulations to justify their position.

I could imagine that the Department of Education might allow Peace College some leeway and look the other way during a limited period of transition, such as the length of time it takes already-enrolled students to graduate. But I don't think this model can be permanently sustained without running afoul of Title IX.