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Esteemed Educator Dr. David Parrott Discusses the Evolution of Landmark Law Title IX 

Dr. David Parrott has spent his career working in administrative roles at a number of higher education institutions. He prides himself on doing what’s best for students and helping them excel as they go through school. To best serve students, Parrott has devoted a lot of time learning about laws that pertain to higher education, including the Title IX legislation. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this statute, and Dr. Parrott would like to help people understand more about this law, including why it was established, how it has changed over the years, and what its future holds. “Generally speaking, Title IX was viewed as an equity in sports law,” Parrott explains. “If you discussed Title IX in higher education before 2011, you were talking about athletic issues, whether you had equitable opportunities for all in your athletic program, that’s primarily how the statute was utilized.” 

Why Title IX Was Established

As Parrott well knows, Title IX was passed in 1972. The statute was designed to help prevent discrimination based on someone’s sex, ensuring men and women had access to the same educational programs and activities that were funded with federal money. When the statute was first passed, the major focus was on sports and athletics. At the time, female athletes were not receiving the same opportunities, benefits, and access to athletic programs that male athletes were. Everything from women’s locker rooms, to gyms, to uniforms and equipment, was often non-existent or cheaper and of lower quality. Title IX was structured to ensure that all received the same access to programs of a federal fund recipient such as a college or university.   

How Title IX Was Originally Used

Up until 2011, the focus of Title IX was primarily on athletics. However, the statute also provided that many other things needed to be equal between men and women, including campus housing, access to counseling, recruiting methods, and sexual harassment. 

Explains Dr. David Parrott: “This is the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. And the statute articulates that no one who participates in a federally funded program should be discriminated against based on their sex. As with all federal statutes pertaining to education, regulations are written to interpret the statute and to provide guidance to federal fund recipients.  To that end the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights provided regulations in 2020 that drive how we currently enforce that statute. 

How Title IX Has Evolved Over the Years

During his career, Dr. Parrott has held key educational positions including vice president, executive associate vice president, chief of staff, dean of students, and a Title IX and ADA coordinator. It’s been in his purview to closely monitor any changes to Title IX — and there have been many.

He instructs: “The statute, implementing regulations and guidance really didn’t cover the educational sphere in terms of discrimination until 2011, when the Obama administration issued a ‘Dear Colleague Letter’ (DCL), which is general guidance; it doesn’t have the force of law like regulations, but it’s general guidance. It’s kind of, ‘you should do these things and if you don’t, we’re going to be really mad and we’re going to punish you if you don’t’, but it’s not law.”

There were more changes on the horizon.

“In 2016 the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration ‘Dear Colleague Letter’. That’s the other problem with ‘Dear Colleague Letters,” Parrott continues. “Every time you change administrations, one administration can rescind the previous administration’s DCL’s. In 2017, the Trump administration put their ‘Dear Colleague Letter” in place, rescinding previous DCL’s. And between 2017 and 2020, the Trump administration engaged in the rigorous exercise of writing regulations and going through all of the steps to get those approved. They were approved and published in 2020 and we had 100 days to get in compliance. Every university scrambled to get in compliance with those 2,000 pages of regulations.”

Where Title IX Is Now

David Parrott has been involved in higher education for a significant period. During his career, he’s seen many changes in the world and in colleges themselves. As things in the world changed, so too did the needs of students. As such, Title IX has evolved to ensure it meets the needs of all students and employees, regardless of their gender, sexual identity, or their sexual orientation. While the statute originally had a huge effect on sports and funding for women’s sports, the statute is now helping protect students and employees from sexual harassment, helping transgender or gender-fluid students and employees to be treated fairly, and helping prevent discrimination based on students’ sexual identity or sexual orientation. 

“The best analogy I can think of is a fast-running stream, because that’s what higher ed is, it’s fast, and it continually moves and impacts all that it touches” says Parrott. “And if you reach down to the bottom of that fast-running stream and pick up a handful of pebbles, they’re all smooth. Because they’ve shaped each other. That’s what the water does to the rocks – and the rocks do to each other.  They get polished, they get smoothed, and they are transformed while keeping their fundamental properties. And that’s what higher education does. Higher Education is a lot of fast water shaping all of the people who are part of it.” 

“The role of Title IX is to ensure that all have equal access to this shaping process that comes in the form of programs and activities of the university.  Our role is to make sure that no one is denied the benefits of the program or activity based on sex.”

“And while this is happening, we have to pay attention to both the individual and the collective. We can’t forget that there are individuals affected by Title IX decisions and policies. They appropriately expect us to protect them from discrimination and to treat them fairly while engaged in any associated processes. At the same time, there’s a collective that is affected by policy and associated decisions.  The collective appropriately expects us to do our job, to protect the many from the behavior of the few.”