Institutions of higher education face an ever-present risk of receiving and responding to formal complaints and investigations related to Title IX and NCAA gender equity filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). NCAA gender equity is a particularly high-risk area, in part, because complaints can be filed with the OCR by individuals who have nothing to do with the college or university or any of its athletic programs. As evidenced from recent NCAA gender equity Title IX investigations, intercollegiate athletics is a high-profile area that oftentimes grabs headlines.
Gender Equity Plans and Gender Equity Committees are powerful and effective tools colleges and universities can employ to minimize legal risk and take steps toward demonstrating compliance obligations. Gender Equity Plans are not required by federal law, but the OCR and courts frequently give deference to these plans when investigating and assessing Title IX gender equity compliance. Developing and implementing a Gender Equity Plan may demonstrate good faith progress toward complying with Title IX.
A school’s membership with the NCAA comes with the expectation that member schools have an active Gender Equity Plan, which includes a Gender Equity Committee. The NCAA’s Practical Guide for Colleges and Universities and Gender Equity Planning Best Practices outline the development and successful implementation of a Gender Equity Committee and Gender Equity Plan.
Gender Equity Committee
A Gender Equity Committee will serve as the school’s entity that (1) develops the Gender Equity Plan, (2) monitors the school’s progress, and (3) adjusts the Gender Equity Plan over time.
The NCAA suggests the following individuals be considered for inclusion when developing a Gender Equity Committee:
- Men and women (both in the athletics and across campus);
- Athletics department representatives (administrators and coaches);
- Title IX coordinator;
- University legal counsel;
- Faculty member;
- President’s office designee; and
- Students (student-athletes, other student representatives, and/or alumni athletes).
Process to Develop a Gender Equity Plan
In developing a Gender Equity Plan, the NCAA recommends the Gender Equity Committee complete the following:
- Review NCAA Division I certification documents and Division II and III self-studies;
- Review federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) information for accuracy and a comparison of previous years’ status;
- Include staff composition and hiring efforts (if appropriate);
- Identify issues, problems, and solutions;
- Develop a list of the areas where disparities exist and what actions should be taken to correct the inequities;
- Seek feedback from participants and those involved with men’s and women’s athletics;
- Develop forms for collecting information and data that can be used by committee members and others involved in the process; and
- Determine a timeline for periodic reviews and progress reports to ensure corrective action is taking place as scheduled.
By maintaining an active Gender Equity Plan and Gender Equity Committee, schools put themselves in a position to demonstrate a continuing commitment toward compliance. If your school does not have an active Gender Equity Plan and Gender Equity Committee, there is no time like the present to get the ball rolling before you hear from the OCR.