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June 20, 2012

Time hasn’t ended legal furor over Title IX

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"We've had to sue to make progress on Title IX," Pollick said.

In 1991, Brown University students did just that, after their school eliminated funding for the women's gymnastics and volleyball programs. The university cited budgetary constraints; after a federal court ordered reinstatement of the programs, Brown appealed the case, with support from 60 other universities, arguing, in part, it had not violated Title IX because women were less interested in sports than men.

The school lost the case, and the 1996 decision, Cohen v. Brown University, was seen by Title IX supporters as groundbreaking. But it was also costly and polarizing, said Margaret “Digit” Murphy, the women's ice hockey coach who, though afraid for her job, sided with the students and testified against her employer.

"From my perspective, it was just hell," said Murphy, who retired last year as the winningest women's ice hockey coach in NCAA Division I. "It was like a war zone in the athletic department. It was just so uncomfortable and so awkward and, really, just so unnecessary."

Murphy had hoped that the court decision would compel other schools to take a comprehensive and candid look at how they were complying with Title IX. She's doubtful that's happened and fears the gap is widening between sports opportunities for men and those for women.

"Here's the sad thing about Title IX,” she said. “It only happens if you sue."

Problem not ‘going to go away’

Bob Gardner, head of the National Federation of State High School Associations, is using this year’s 40th anniversary of Title IX to encourage schools to embrace the law. The cover story for the May issue of his association's magazine is headlined: “Title IX at 40: More Important Than Ever.” The editorial Gardner penned for the issue urges high school leaders "to promote equity and fairness as a priority in our schools across the country."

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