KU says Title IX satisfied in case

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kansas Athletics has filed documents that show it has satisfied a Title IX complaint lodged by a former Kansas University swimmer who had hoped to encourage the university to offer more men’s sports.

Ron Neugent, a Wichita dentist and former KU swimmer, filed an unusual complaint in 2009 under the law long used to bring about equality for women in athletics.

To comply with Title IX, a university must meet one part of a three-part test. Kansas Athletics stays in compliance with the law by closely watching the number of participants in men’s and women’s sports — sometimes monitoring rosters weekly — to ensure they’re proportional with the number of men and women enrolled at the university.

Neugent found that as of 2007-08, 51 fewer men than women participated in sports at KU. That meant men were the under-represented gender.

KU agreed on a course of action to resolve Neugent’s complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX regulations. The agreement didn’t mean KU was out of compliance.

To comply with Title IX, a university must show one of the following:

• It is providing athletic opportunities for men and women at a rate substantially proportional to the enrollment rates of men and women.

• It has a continuing practice of program expansion for an under-represented gender.

• It can demonstrate the interest and abilities of the under-represented gender are being fully accommodated.

In this case, KU chose to show it was in compliance with the first option.

“We are doing what we’re supposed to do in the spirit of the law,” said Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director.

Judy Pottorff, corporate counsel with Kansas Athletics, said the change made at KU was a very minor one. Though KU has never received specific direction on what “substantially proportional” meant, Pottorff said the school was told it was compliant in 2007 when its male-female participation in sports differed by 1.8 percent from the enrollment figures.

“It’s something we’ve always done,” she said. “We wanted to tighten it up to get it a little bit closer.”

After the complaint, KU’s sports participation exactly matched the percentages of men and women enrolled at the university. In December, KU had 294 men participating in sports and 283 women, which was almost exactly the same percentages of the 8,846 men and 8,484 women enrolled on the Lawrence campus.

Debbie Van Saun, Kansas Athletics’ senior woman administrator, watches the rosters carefully, and works with coaches to ensure their participation numbers stay proportional to enrollment percentages. While one person dropping out might not be significant, if the percentages get off by 10 people or more, the school will work with coaches to adjust roster sizes for upcoming seasons.

Title IX complaints at the school are rare, Pottorff said.

Neugent said he was disappointed with the university’s response. In a letter to Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, he said he hoped that KU could take steps to add men’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis. That’s a move that could help its standing in the Directors’ Cup, a competition among universities that measures athletic performance in 10 men’s and 10 women’s sports, Neugent said.

Today, KU offers seven men’s sports and 11 women’s sports.

“I was hoping they would take it as an opportunity to add men’s sports,” and still comply with Title IX, he said. “Most schools don’t have that opportunity.”