Federal government investigating UD for cutting track team
Published: Friday, April 22, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 04:04
A federal civil rights office has agreed to investigate claims by members of the men's track team that the university's decision to cut the team amounts to discrimination against male athletes.
The complaint, reportedly signed by approximately 40 members of the team, alleges the university's action, which university officials maintain was to comply with Title IX, is in fact a violation of Title IX.
"This action discriminates and denies opportunities to student athletes—against the spirit of Title IX," reads the complaint, which was filed in February with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
Senior Corey Wall, a member of the team who is acting as a spokesman for the group of students who signed the complaint, said he was notified by OCR Wednesday that it will investigate the group's allegations.
University spokesman John Brennan confirmed Thursday that the university received similar notification from OCR and will cooperate fully with the investigation.
"The university stands by its decision made in January to reclassify varsity men's cross country and track and field as club sports in order to provide equitable and substantially proportionate participation opportunities for UD men and women," Brennan said in a statement. "This decision was made after an in-depth study to determine the optimal combination of sport offerings that would provide quality opportunities to UD student-athletes while exercising fiscal responsibility and remaining in compliance with Title IX."
Wall provided The Review with a copy of the group's formal complaint, but would not release the letter from OCR, claiming he did not know if he was permitted to do so. He also would not divulge the names of the signers, but said they include almost all of the team members.
Much of the complaint revolves around the team members' argument that the decision to cut the team was made in secret, and that the administration has not fully explained to the athletes or the community its reasons.
"No logical or reasonable arguments have been delivered to us, the student athletes directly affected by this decision," the complaint reads.
When the decision was initially announced in January, officials cited as their reason the need for compliance with Title IX, the federal law meant to ensure gender equality in education.
"We found ourselves facing two options: either we had to continue the periodic expansion of programming for women in order to be responsive to their interest and ability, or adjust the current offerings to provide equitable and substantially proportionate participation opportunities for our men and women," Athletic Director Bernard Muir said at the time. "Continued expansion of our athletics program is not feasible in this financial climate, and given that reality, the University made the only decision it could."
However, a month later, university lawyer Lawrence White told The Review the university was not in violation of Title IX before the team was cut.
"I would say publicly, and I have said publicly, that under the relatively complex test for complying with Title IX, I would argue that we are in compliance," White said in February.
Wall said Thursday the inconsistencies still bother the team members.
"We felt discriminated against based on our sex because [...] we think they just used Title IX as a cover for some ulterior motive," Wall said, adding that one theory put forth by some on the team, though unsubstantiated, is that the university wants to convert the outdoor track stadium into space for a different purpose.
A secondary allegation the complaint makes is that the university only considered the first "prong" of Title IX, which requires schools to ensure opportunities are proportionate to the gender ratio of the student body. The second and third prongs, which allow for more creative ways of demonstrating compliance, were not fully explored, the athletes claim.
"The bottom line is they could have come up with a much better solution than this," Wall said. "Even if they did have to comply with Title IX, they didn't have to do it in this way."
According to information on OCR's website, the office evaluates every complaint it receives. If it deems the complaint as falling under its jurisdiction, it will notify all parties of an impending investigation, as it did Thursday.
The office will now examine the evidence, which may be collected through a review of documents, interviews with people on both sides or site visits, according to standard procedure.
If it finds the university is in violation, it will offer officials a chance to settle with the complainants. Unwillingness to settle or non-compliance with a settlement could result in a loss of federal funding.
Wall said the team members' goal is to get the team reinstated.
"We don't want anything bad to happen to the university, we really don't," he said. "We just want them to maybe be scared something bad will happen so they settle with us."