Two more schools are facing Title IX investigations by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Education. The investigations showcase how colleges are expected to both advance the interests of women and not discriminate against anyone based on their gender.
OCR Investigates College Programs for Women
Spurred by reports from the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Department of Education's OCR announced that it had begun Title IX investigations into three college preparation programs at UC-Berkeley and Rice University. Those programs are only open to high school or middle school girls and are designed to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
One is the Girls in Engineering (GiE) Camp at the University of California-Berkeley. The only people eligible to participate in GiE camps are girls entering grades 6 through 8 in the San Francisco Bay area.
The other two programs are provided by Rice University, in Houston, Texas.
One of them is a two-week camp called Design, Connect, Create: Physics for Young Women. It is only open to girls in grades 8 through 11. The other is Rice's IBB Girls STEM Initiative, a summer program for economically disadvantages girls entering the sophomore year of high school.
All of these programs only allow girls to participate – with some programs explicitly limiting enrollment to girls, while others allow anyone to apply, but only accept girls. Therefore, the OCR opened Title IX investigations into whether that constituted gender discrimination against boys.
Conflicting Interests in Promoting Women in Science and Title IX
Colleges across the country are finding themselves in the crosshairs of people who lament the lack of women in certain professional fields – particularly science and engineering. Advocates for women in these fields have pushed colleges to get more girls interested in science and technology to even the gender gap. Colleges have responded with programs that cater to high school and even middle school girls to get them excited enough about science that they pursue STEM degrees in college.
But that gender-specific interest violates Title IX's prohibition against gender discrimination. Simply put, providing STEM programs for high school girls – but not high school boys – discriminates against boys who would have otherwise enjoyed or benefitted from the programs. In a literal and straightforward reading of Title IX law, this kind of affirmative action of promoting women in science – no matter how much it would benefit people in the long run – is discriminatory to men. Without a caveat in Title IX law that allows for discriminatory programs like these at Rice and UC-Berkeley when there is a compelling government interest, they have to fall.
Joseph D. Lento: Title IX Defense Lawyer and Advisor
Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX defense lawyer and a national Title IX advisor. He fights for the due process rights of people who have been accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses across the country. Contact him online or call him at (888) 535-3686 for the legal help and guidance you need.