The following is taken from a speech given by Bunny Sandler at the annual conference of the National Association of Collegiate Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) in St. Petersburg, Florida on the 35th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. Sandler provided an historical context to her five-decade career.
The Real Story Behind Title IX
It was the late 1960’s, the women’s movement was just a few years old and the terms “sex discrimination” and “sexism” did not exist. There were no newsletters or conferences devoted to women’s issues. Email was not available to help women communicate with each other.
Women needed much higher grades than men to get into a college and grad schools set a limit on the number of women admitted. Some 21,000 women were denied admission to state universities in Virginia, but no men. The veterinary school at Cornell University NY admitted just two women a year, unlike today when 70 – 80% of vet students are women.
Women applying for faculty jobs routinely heard, “Your qualifications are excellent but we already have a woman in this department.” Some departments had neither women nor plans to hire any. Nobody would have hired a married woman.
Bunny Sandler felt the discrimination. As a part time lecturer at the University of Maryland, she applied for a tenure-track job but was told by a colleague to forget it, because “You come on too strong for a woman.” She went home and cried.
Her then-husband understood. “Are there any strong men there?” he asked. “All of them,” she answered. “It’s not you, its sex discrimination,” he told her.
Eschewing the nascent women’s movement, Sandler continued to apply for jobs and got two more rejections, including being told, “You’re not really a professor, just a housewife who went back to school.” Three times she got on the short list, but didn’t get the job.
Having been denied opportunities many times because of her sex, Sandler began to read about legal issues and sex discrimination. “I naively thought that since sex discrimination was wrong, there must be a law against it,” she said.
But the 1963 Equal Pay Act covered women and men, but exempted education. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on race, origin, color and religion, but not sex. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act exempted educational activities at schools. And the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not apply to women.
Finally Sandler found a footnote to a law on federal contracts that prohibited discrimination based on sex. “Eureka!” she said. She’d found the needle in the haystack of federal regulations that would support women.
In January of 1970, she and a small band of women (and a few “men of goodwill”) filed the first complaint against every college with federal contracts, about 250 of them. “It was very easy to do,” she recalled, but it went unnoticed except by the Saturday Review of Literature, which listed it under the heading of “Women’s Activities.”
Sandler encouraged other academic women to compile data on the number of women in each department in their schools, and learned the percentages were dismal. “At the time women received 22% of the doctorates in psychology, so you’d expect the number of women faculty to be comparable,” she said. “But in Harvard University’s graduate school of humanities of sciences, the last time they’d hired a women was in 1924.”
She advised faculty women feeling the discrimination to contact their Senators and Congressmen, and the Secretary of Labor, Health and Welfare, demanding enforcement of the executive order forbidding discrimination in schools with federal contracts. Staff members learned about the new issues, as did their bosses.
Within four months, many women had filed complaints, and the universities of Michigan and Harvard had been called on the carpet. “The U.S. government became directly involved in the investigations related to sexual discrimination in higher education,” she said. “Pandora’s Box had opened.”
Congresswoman to the Rescue
Representative Edith Green (D-Oregon) had long been interested in women and education, and in fact had proposed an equal pay act eight years before it became law. As chair of the House committee on education, she introduced a bill requiring gender equity in education, on which her committee held hearings. Sandler lined up women to testify about not getting hired - or receiving lower pay, no benefits or offices – even one who was not paid because her husband worked at the same school.
“The American Council on Education was the main player in higher education,” Sandler recalled. “But the president at the time declared there was no sexism in higher education – and even if there was, so what? Their reaction showed higher education wasn’t watching.”
Few members of congress were aware of the bill, and they certainly didn’t imagine its later effect on college athletics. “It was easy to get data. We had 1200 pages of data on sex discrimination in higher education,” she recalled.
After Passage in the House, with the strong support on Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), Title IX went to the Senate where Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) finessed it through with assurances that beauty pageants could still award scholarships “based on skill” and women would not be allowed to play football. After Mink’s death in 2002, the law called Title IX was re-named to honor her.
What about Athletics?
Sandler was involved in a 1974 study that revealed some strong anecdotal evidence that in the1970’s women in athletics got only a tiny sliver of the pie. For example, the University of Michigan had a $1.4 million budget for athletics, and none of it went to women’s programs, Sandler listed these examples:
· Women sold apples at football games to pay for their uniforms.
· Male athletes flew to contests first class, while women drove their own cars or rode with coaches.
· In gymnastics, men saved their used tape for the women’s team.
· Women athletes got negative messages, including a coach telling an injured player: “Put your foot in the toilet and keep flushing.”
It was not secret that men got newer and better uniforms, locker rooms, exclusive use of an intramural pool at certain times, better-trained coaches, academic credit for participating in athletic events and exemptions from taking physical education classes.
Why didn’t alarms go off about Title IX and athletics?
“Awareness of sex discrimination was so limited that nobody expected the impact,” Sandler recalled. “In my 1970 testimony, I didn’t even mention athletics. A year later, I mentioned athletics in just one sentence. After it passed in June of 1972, five or six of us realized that Title IX would cover athletics as well, but we never considered its effect. I thought that maybe on Field Day, there would be more activities for girls.”
Representative Green knew it would have great impact, but discouraged Sandler from enlisting women to lobby Congress. “She said nobody should know about the bill or we’d get lots of amendments to it,” Sandler said. Green wrote the bill to follow the style of Title VI, with “grand language like the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” Sandler said, adding sex to the list of prohibitions against discriminating by race, religion and national origin. Since the NCAA covered only men’s sports at the time, it did not oppose the bill.
When President Nixon signed the bill into law, Sandler said, “A new era had begun, but few knew this would change education and schools forever.
Prior to Title IX (1970) After Title IX
Women were 4% of law students Women make up over 47% of law students (2009 – 2010)
Women were 8% of medical students Women make up 48% of medical students (2009)
Women were 1% to 4% of all other professional schools Women make up 39% - 45% of other professional