Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top ten of 2007

[This was promised two days ago but, well, it just didn't happen. Please don't hold it against it us. We promise it does not an indication of a pattern in the new year.]

Below are what we saw as the top ten Title IX stories of the year. As Ebuz noted to a reporter from Inside HigherEd not too long ago, it was a good year to be a Title IX plaintiff. You will see this reflected below, but other events were pivotal as well. The list is in no particular order--we could say it's because we here at the Title IX Blog don't like to hierarchize, but really it's impossible to figure out what was the most significant story of the year. There were so many times this year we just found ourselves saying to one another: "No way. Really?" And in a good way.

1. University of Colorado settles sexual harassment case with two former students who accused the university--now with a new president and athletic director--of failing to do enough to remedy the situation with football recruit parties that lead to their sexual assaults. We expect to see a very positive ripple effect from this case in future sexual harassment cases.

2. All things Fresno State. Three cases of discrimination, three wins (we consider settlement a win in this situation). Great record for Title IX--not so good for Fresno State, California taxpayers, and university president John Welty who we predict (because it is the time of year for making predictions) will not make it through 2008 in his current position. We also predict that as exciting as Stacy Johnson-Klein's $19.1 million jury award was--it will not stand up. We expect a reduction in the amount and hope Fresno does not push for a new trial. And though the cases of Lindy Vivas, Diane Milutinovich and Johnson-Klein seem to have reached the denouement, don't expect 2008 to be a good time for Fresno State. An assistant in the athletic department filed a discrimination suit at the end of 2007. We will have to wait and see what Fresno learned this past year as they approach this new charge of discrimination.

3. The anniversary. 2007 marked the 35th anniversary of the legislation and it seemed every media outlet in the country (and beyond) covered it some way. It was all very celebratory and certainly we celebrated too, but much of this coverage failed to critically address the backlash against Title IX. Luckily there were plenty of opportunities this year to correct all the misinformation about the law that came from sports writers, non-sports writers, television commentators, bloggers, and people with all sorts of opinions. But the anniversary also provided a great opportunity for assessment and discourse about the future. We were excited to be a small part of this conversation not only on this blog but at events like the Girls and Women Rock Conference in Cleveland last April.

4. Jennifer Harris v. Rene Portland. The lawsuit got settled; the terms and gathered evidence were sealed, but we heard things here and there and read between the lines and generally were pleased. Then we were even more pleased when Portland resigned shortly after the season ended. Jennifer Harris deserves the utmost respect and many thanks for being the first person to stand up to Portland's racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior.

5. Florida Gulf Coast University. Pat Griffin has dubbed FGCU "Fresno east." Not a nickname you want to have hanging around your athletic department as it tries to become a more serious contender in DI athletics. What FGCU might learn from Fresno is hard to discern right now. The administration does not seem to think it is, in any way, in the wrong in its treatment of female coaches, very few of whom actually remain at the school. But just like their counterparts across the country, these women are fighting back. And they are making homophobia a more salient issue in the discussion of their treatment.

6. UNC's Anson Dorrance is going to stand trial for sexual harassment. This case has been ongoing for years, but in April, assuming no settlement is reached (which is a big assumption given the precedent that seems to have been set in 2007) head soccer coach Dorrance will finally have to answer for his treatment of his players and the sexualized atmosphere he created on the team.

7. Cheerleading. Yep. We wrote about cheerleading a fair amount this year given it is not even an NCAA-approved sport. This did not stop University of Oregon, though, from creating only the second varsity-level competitive cheer program in the country (after Maryland). The addition of a non-sanctioned sport alone would have created some controversy (as it has at UMD) but the decision to add competitive cheer just as Oregon was cutting wrestling (and simultaneously reinstating baseball) created quite a stir. Things may have settled a bit at Oregon but the issue of competitive cheer as sport that counts toward Title IX compliance is not likely to go away soon and, though it may not happen this year, I would not be surprised to see a lawsuit brought by a club sport player whose team did not get elevated to varsity status because cheerleading did.
The other big cheerleading news was at the high school level where most cheer teams are not considered sports but rather constitute support for sports teams. This means, under Title IX, if you provide such support to your boys' teams, you must do so for your girls' teams. This was the issue at hand in New York, when a mother of a female basketball player protested the lack of cheerleaders at the girls' games and their constant presence on the boys' sidelines. And despite our awareness of entrenched gender norms in this society, we were a little surprised at the backlash engendered by the mandate for equal amounts of cheering that seemed to stem largely from a general feeling that girls should not be cheering for other girls.

8. Softball fields. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that we found about a story almost every week about the condition of softball fields. Most came out of high schools, but a few were about college fields as well. Parents, players, concerned citizens have been filing complaints about how the inferior fields are a violation of Title IX. Why softball fields? They are a very tangible measure of compliance. Look at the baseball field; look at the softball field. Are there lights, concession stands, same level of maintenance, outright ownership, suitable dugouts, fences, bleachers, etc. on both fields? It is difficult to defend a softball field that is lacking in any of these things when the field used by the baseball team has them. And that is why so many softball fields across the country this year got some major face lifts.

9. Seasons of change in Michigan. It finally ended. The case against the Michigan High School Athletic Association ended last April when the Supreme Court denied the organization cert. This has meant that the lower court's decision that MHSAA was in violation of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause in its scheduling of girls' sports out of their traditional seasons has stood. Michigan high schools have had to change their schedules accordingly. The controversy this case created was enormous and the incivility of the discussions was disheartening. We hope that 2008 is the proverbial calm after the storm and that everyone is working more willingly than not toward dealing effectively with the scheduling changes.

10. Boosters. Almost as ubiquitous as the stories about softball fields were the stories about booster club funds. Yes, money raised by booster clubs must be considered in the quest for equitable support of girls' and boys' teams. High schools in Pennsylvania and California are addressing and accounting for booster club funds right now. More stories like this and the other ones we covered this year are likely to emerge in the coming year.