New Mexico Conducts Survey

The University of New Mexico chooses prong three to defend its participation figures.

By Staff

Athletic Management, 12.6, Oct/Nov 2000,

Of the Title IX cases being filed at the collegiate level, the one at the University of New Mexico is being watched closely for two reasons. The first reason involves the strange way it came about.
In May, 1999, the school dropped three men’s sports: wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming. Two men (one a professor, the other an alumnus) who were angered by the decision decided to file a Title IX complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). They argued that the university’s decision to cut these particular three sports was arbitrary and motivated by the university’s need to be in compliance with Title IX. They also alleged that the University of New Mexico is not in compliance with Title IX anyway and that cutting the three men’s sports will do little to rectify the situation.
There is no legal recourse for their first complaint—it is not against Title IX to drop men’s sports if there are more overall opportunities for males. But the Office of Civil Rights has pursued their second allegation.
Bill McGillis, Senior Associate Athletic Director for the University of New Mexico, admits being puzzled by the complainants’ decision to file with the OCR and believes that the decision was not in any way motivated by a desire to advance the causes of women’s sports. “I know that once the decision was made, they were definitely motivated to have the three men’s sports reinstated,” McGillis says. “And I have no problem with that motive—actually, I respect their passion for wanting to do that. However, the complaint they filed with the OCR struck me as odd, and perhaps simply an attempt to make life difficult for the University of New Mexico. These men have never indicated any interest, whatsoever, in expanding opportunities for women, so it was ironic that they filed this complaint.”
McGillis says that finances, and not Title IX, were the motivating factor in cutting the men’s sports. “We didn’t drop the three men’s sports for reasons of Title IX, and we never indicated that,” McGillis says. “It was primarily for financial reasons. Title IX entered into our decision only in that when we evaluated which sports to eliminate, we did not consider any of our women’s sports.”
Nevertheless, the case goes on, and with it has come another interesting scenario: New Mexico has decided to prove it is complying with Title IX through prong three of the OCR test, as opposed to prongs one or two. When the OCR evaluates a complaint, it uses a three-prong test for determining whether a school is in compliance with Title IX. The first prong, “substantial proportionality” compares the percentage of female undergraduates in the student population to the percentage of female athletes in the athletic department. At the University of New Mexico, the student population is 57 percent female, while only 33 percent of its athletes are female.
The second prong, whether a school has a “history and continuing practice” of adding women’s sports, also could not be shown by the University of New Mexico. The school added its last women’s sport (soccer) in 1993, but had dropped women’s gymnastics in 1992.
The third prong asks whether an institution is “fully and effectively accommodating the athletic interests and abilities” of female students. The university’s administrators are currently studying whether they meet this test.
“We believe we may be accommodating the interests and abilities of women for a few reasons,” says McGillis. “One, we’re offering every sport that’s offered for girls at the high school level in New Mexico. Two, we’re offering every sport that’s offered in the Mountain West Conference. Three, we’ve had virtually no expression of interest in the last seven or eight years, by anyone, regarding the addition of any women’s sports. Four, we have a non-traditional student population [many students attending the university are returning to school in their late 20s]. Five, there are no women’s club sports at the University of New Mexico, although a women’s rugby team is being formed.”
But the university needed an objective way to measure the level of accommodation. Consequently, administrators at the school have spent the last months developing a means for measuring whether students’ interests and abilities are being met. The result is a survey that will be administered in the near future to its female students.
McGillis says the basic survey instrument and sample have been approved by the OCR but the specific questions are still being reviewed. Once the survey is administered, the university has agreed to be bound by its results.
“We’ve agreed that if the survey shows that we are not accommodating the interests and abilities of women at the University of New Mexico,” McGillis says, “then we will provide intercollegiate opportunities for men and women proportionate to our enrollment.”
McGillis adds that, no matter what the outcome of the OCR investigation is, the three men’s sports will not be reinstated. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, and again in an editorial in The NCAA News (July 3, 2000) Dr. Frederick Hashimoto, the University of New Mexico professor who filed the complaint, indicated that he knew such was the case, but claimed that he hoped to make an example, nationally, of the wrongness of cutting men’s sports in order to comply with Title IX.
For McGillis, Title IX was never the issue. “Title IX is not the cause of everybody’s financial challenges,” he says. “There are many issues in college athletics today that are escalating the costs of running a Division I-A athletics program. The number of opportunities that we provide both to men and women is just one of many factors.”