Monday, April 20, 2015

Utica College Selective Deploys Title IX Excuse

The student newspaper at Utica College apparently has a tradition of publishing a satirical issue on   April Fools Day.  This year's issue featured some off-color humor including, as described in this article, a "sexually explicit bingo game featuring derogatory remarks toward women," and a "photo depicting a woman with a beard as the school’s most eligible bachelorette."

I know, yuck. But when I heard that the college president censored the issue because of concern for "Title IX litigation" I have to say, it sounded to me like another case of using the statute as an excuse to justify an unpopular decision.  To bring a Title IX lawsuit, a plaintiff has to challenge harassment that is so "severe or pervasive" that it interferes with the plaintiff's ability to get an education. Two offensive pages in the student newspaper are nowhere close to that standard.  I have no opinion on whether the paper should have been censored, but I object to the "Title IX made us do it" excuse, which already gets plenty of play when college athletic departments cut men's teams.  Title IX does not micromanage institution's decisions in that context, and it does not micromanage their reactions to the student paper either. Censor or don't censor, but don't misrepresent the scope of Title IX as enabling a lawsuit over everything that causes offense.  The statute has enough haters already. 

Moreover, it appears that Utica's concern over Title IX litigation is limited to the student paper. At a school where women make up over 56% of the student body, only 39% of athletic opportunities are in women's sports.  That's a 17 percentage point disparity and among the most egregious I've seen in present day.  If Utica College is really so litigation risk adverse, perhaps in addition to censoring the paper, it also ought to add a couple more women's teams.