Title IX Challenges Against Programs Fostering Gender Diversity on the Rise

Title IX Challenges Against Programs Fostering Gender Diversity on the Rise
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr's Higher Education Highlights Summer 2019
Carolyn M. Toll
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr's Higher Education Highlights Summer 2019

Within the past year, numerous administrative complaints have been filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that collegiate programs supporting women violate Title IX.  The complainants argue that because Title IX protects all persons from discrimination on the basis of sex, programs specifically designed to advance women on campus unlawfully discriminate against males.

These “reverse gender” discrimination complaints share a common theme – i.e., that women are no longer underrepresented in higher education and that the alleged “gender favoritism” and “special treatment,” offered through these programs, must come to an end.

Who is filing the complaints?

Anyone may file a discrimination complaint with the Office for Civil Rights – the person or organization filing the complaint need not be a direct victim of the alleged discrimination.  As a result, male activist organizations have become active in this space.  One such organization is the National Coalition for Men, which is the nation’s oldest men’s nonprofit.  For its part, in addition to filing complaints against the University of Pennsylvania and Northeastern University, the National Coalition for Men has formed an all-volunteer law firm that specifically takes on complaints of male discrimination.

High-profile individual complainants include:  Kursat Christoff Pekgoz, a University of Southern California PhD Candidate and Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint. 

  • Pekgoz, in addition to filing complaints against multiple universities (Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of Southern California, among others), has published an online how-to “guide” for federal complaints against higher education institutions, which he refers to as “a toxic environment against men.” 
  • Perry similarly advocates for what he considers equal protection for men, arguing that women are unlawfully and unfairly “still treated like they’re underrepresented, like they’re weak and victims and need all this support.”

What programs are being targeted?

The most commonly called-into-question programs include:

  • scholarships and financial aid targeted at women
  • women’s networking groups, conferences, initiatives, or events
  • women’s studies departments
  • women’s science and engineering chapters

Some of the programs under attack are exclusively available to women, but not all.  According to the complaints, even programs that do not specifically bar men from joining may still violate Title IX because of minimal male participation and a discriminatory effect and hostility to men.

What’s Next?

The future of these collegiate programs remains murky.  As the Department continues to investigate some programs, other institutions have voluntarily removed gender-specific requirements for scholarships and awards, and have opened up clubs, camps, and student organizations to all students, regardless of gender identity.

In a more formal action, Tulane University reached a resolution agreement with the Department relating to female-only scholarships and programs.  Under the terms of the resolution agreement, Tulane will ensure that by September 6, 2019 “it is not treating male students differently on the basis of sex” through its financial assistance, experimental learning opportunities, programs, and student organization, and it will provide updated training to ensure nondiscrimination against males. While lacking additional detail, the resolution agreement itself likely signals that the Department is taking these complaints seriously and is ready to take action.