Friday, July 10, 2015

Title IX Complaint Challenges Student Fee for Women's Association

A student at Louisiana Tech University has filed a complaint with the Departments of Education and Justice over a student fee used to fund an organization called the Association for Women Students.  Louisiana Tech reportedly assesses a fifty-cent fee only on women students. 

It is unclear to me whether the complainant, who is male, is objecting on behalf of women to the fact that they have to pay more in fees than their male counterparts, or if his concern is that the fee is used to fund an association that promotes women's interests. Fee issues aside, I do not think it violates Title IX for the university to support the Association for Women Students.  From what I could tell on its website, the AWS does not limit membership based on sex.  If I'm wrong, and it does, then that would be the Title IX problem right there. But the association appears to be open to all students, regardless of sex, who have an interest in promoting leadership and networking for women and celebrating multiculturalism among women. Moreover, the list of projects that the AWS has taken on all seem to benefit the student body as a whole rather than exclusively women.  For example, the AWS has sponsored safety phones on campus and golf carts to help transport students at night, as well as microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners in the dorm. While I am slightly concerned that these items are not already supported out of the university budget, I do not see anything discriminatory in the university sponsoring an organization that promotes projects such as these.

However, I do agree that singling out women to pay an additional fee, even one as low as fifty cents, is in a technical sense discrimination because of sex. Instead, Louisiana Tech should do what many other universities and colleges do, and charge all students a general student activity fee that supports various student groups that do different things and appeal to different constituencies. As long the fund uses sex-neutral criteria for determining what groups get supported, and as long it doesn't fund groups that restricting membership based on sex, I don't think there is anything discriminatory about using funds from a general student activity fee to support a group that exists to promote women's leadership and networking and does projects that benefit the campus as a whole.