Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Wider Context and Effects of Court Ruling in Favor of UR

The University’s victory against the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights had vast effects beyond the University of Richmond itself. While the court’s ruling applied directly to the University, indicating that UR did not have to adhere to Title IX since its athletics program did not directly receive federal funds, the impact of the ruling did not stop there, as some had predicted.

Article "Ruling Could 'Decimate' Protection Against Sex Bias, Officials Say"

Article "Ruling Could 'Decimate' Protection Against Sex Bias, Officials Say"

Article "UR Case Has Warded Off U.S. Bias Probe at W&M"

Article "UR Case Has Warded Off U.S. Bias Probe at W&M"

Letter from William H. Leftwich to Lewis Nobles

Letter from William H. Leftwich to Lewis Nobles

Article "Subsidizing Discrimination"

Article: "Subsidizing Discrimination". The Record, October 13, 1982. 

Article "Women's athletics: the equality controversy"

Article from the Collegian: "Women's athletics: the equality controversy"

The Chronicle of Higher Education released an article prior to the government’s decision to not appeal the case that indicated that if it stood, the ruling could destroy the protections of sex equality that Title IX was intended to uphold. According to the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., the ruling would permit sex discrimination in other programs beyond UR’s that “while not directly targeted by federal funds, nonetheless receive and benefit from federal aid.” While many groups hoped for an appeal, the decision stood and its ramifications spread.

Only ten days after the release of the Chronicle of Higher Education article, the Richmond Times-Dispatch indicated that following the official verdict in UR’s case, an investigation of William & Mary’s (W&M) athletic department had been halted due to the UR ruling. According to the article, it was now unknown which complaints of sex discrimination could be investigated at W&M, given the Supreme Court’s ruled definition of federal financial aid. W&M’s affirmative action director, Dale Robinson, expressed surprise at the UR case decision, but nevertheless indicated that “it will have no effect on W&M’s commitment to equality among men’s and women’s athletic programs.” Despite W&M’s assertion that it would commit to equality despite the ruling, UR’s efforts to assist other universities following their own success highlights the general desire of universities to avoid such regulatory demands.

News of UR’s decision and its effects spread beyond Virginia universities and communities. In fact, a New Jersey newspaper, The Record, released an article titled “Subsidizing Discrimination”, in which UR’s case was heavily criticized. The criticism, however, applied not only to the decision and UR’s lack of defense to the allegations of inequalities, but to the government’s lack of appeal as well. The article suggests that the Reagan administration is “on the wrong side in another anti-discrimination case” and questions whether President Reagan is truly up for the job of representing all people (including women). The article reads, “The government could (and should) appeal; but the president wants to drop the case. If that happened, the Education Department would lose much of its authority to review and resolve sex-discrimination complaints.” The Record expresses agreement with the commissioner of the U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner who sought a government appeal and argued that the administration’s lack of appeal conveys a “disturbing willingness to abandon the federal government’s constitutional obligation to protect the victims of discrimination.”

While UR’s victory set a precedent for other universities to avoid Title IX requirements, UR officials were taking active measures to help other university presidents in similar situations. This assistance was often portrayed as an effort to help other institutions avoid the overly intrusive federal government, which, according to UR officials, attacked the University in pursuit of its unwarranted investigation. In one correspondence between UR’s Vice President William H. Leftwich to Mississippi College’s President, Lewis Nobles, Leftwich offered UR’s legal services to Nobles. Leftwich expressed commiseration with Nobles for having received a complaint letter from the Office of Civil Rights, writing, “It makes one wonder just how far back that office is willing to dig in order to come up with some justification for harassing our education institution.” Leftwich proceeded to extend his resources and encouraged Nobles to reach out if there was anything UR could do for Mississippi College.

Student and Faculty response

In several articles from the Collegian, it is observed that there was a general discontent with the ruling in favor of the university, especially from female athletes and coaches. One such article, published on March 24, 1983 and titled "Women's athletics: the equality controversy" comments on the issue. The staff writer makes evident the great disparities between male and female athletics by emphasizing that “the women’s basketball team is occasionally cheered on by the freshman cheering squad, the Aquanettes [the female synchronized swimming team] hand letter their own publicity posters, and Sports information didn’t take routine photos of the lacrosse or field hockey teams last year.” The article goes on explaining in detail the hardships faced by the Aquanettes in terms of the lack of funding received. Only one senior in the team at the time, Susan Ellis, was on a $2,000 partial scholarship and according to the article, the latter funding “will cease to exist when Ellis graduates.” Moreover, the writer questions the university’s compliance with Title IX, given that the institution won the lawsuit on the basis of ‘federal intrusion into private education’, but “an investigation into discrimination in athletics at UR was never conducted”.

While UR maintained that its mission was solely to escape the intrusion of the federal government, it did little to assure the public that it was not, in fact, discriminating based on sex. Instead, it placed focus on the government, appealing to the concerns of other institutions. It took little caution in offering to help other universities, further spreading the effects of its court ruling. It is important to consider the University’s decision to use language surrounding government rather than adequately addressing real concerns of discrimination. In doing so, UR allowed for and encouraged other institutions to do the same.

Wider Context and Effects of Court Ruling in Favor of UR