E.D. Assailed for Weakening Its Enforcement of Title IX
By Tom Mirga
Washington--Members of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues charged last week that the Reagan Administration's decision not to consider Guaranteed Student Loans (GSL's) as a form of federal financial assistance to educational institutions could exempt as many as 300 colleges and universities from compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other federal civil-rights statutes.
In general, when the federal government gives financial assistance to states, localities, institutions, or programs, it requires the recipients to comply with all civil-rights laws. The Administration argues in the case of GSL's, however, that they constitute assistance to individuals rather than to the institutions they attend.
'Not a Federal Priority'
"The new word from Washington is that equal educational opportunity is no longer a federal government priority and that there is little reason for educational institutions to fear the consequences of discriminatory policies," Representative Patricia Schroeder, Democrat of Colorado and co-chairman of the congressional caucus, said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education last week.
U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, defending the Administration's proposal, said that neither he nor President Reagan "wants to be a party to anything that smacks of discrimination."
Mr. Bell added, however, that the Administration hopes to protect educational institutions "from the federal government's over-reaching tentacles" by means of "good common-sense interpretation" of civil-rights statutes.
The hearing before the House education panel was called as a result of the Administration's decision on the status of the GSL program, which stems from a lawsuit brought by Grove City College in Pennsylvania against the Department of Education (ED).
The college argued in its lawsuit, Grove City College v. Bell, that it was exempt from compliance with Title IX because it does not apply for and does not receive federal funds.
A federal district court in Pennsylvania ruled against the school in part, saying that GSL's obtained by Grove City College students constituted federal financial assistance.
The court also ruled, however, that ed could not enforce Title IX by denying the federally subsidized loans to the college's students because the loans fall within an exemption in Title IX for "contracts of insurance or guarantee."
Federal education officials appealed the district-court ruling, but decided earlier this year no longer to contest the court's ruling that GSL's fall under the exception for contracts of insurance or guarantee.
The government now argues that the college remains subject to the Title IX regulations because students there receive Pell Grants. This form of student aid, according to federal officials, does not come under the exemption because, unlike GSL's, it flows directly from the federal government to the school.
Representative Shirley Chisholm, Democrat of New York, told the House education panel that she believes "this new interpretation of federal assistance will have a devastating impact on enforcement of various civil-rights statutes," including Title IX.
"Whether by legislation or by executive fiat, attacks on Title IX are indicative of this Administration's callous attitude toward civil-rights enforcement," Representative Chisholm continued. "To those persons who label Title IX ineffective and burdensome, I can only reply that denying equal opportunities to any-one on the basis of their gender is a far greater burden than implementing our civil-rights laws."
Secretary Bell responded that it was his personal belief that the GSL's "do not constitute federal financial assistance to institutions."
"The route traveled by the tax dollar from the U.S. Treasury to a college bank account is too convoluted to provide, in my personal judgment', sufficient nexus between the federal government to assert jurisdiction," he explained. The Secretary added that an extensive review of the legislative history of Title IX and related civil-rights statutes bears out his belief.
"This Administration is all for civil rights for women, the handicapped, and other minorities," he said. "As long as I am Secretary of Education, I will do everything in my power to see that this department does not condone discrimination."