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May 16, 2023

With the Shekels

Come the Shackles

So far, we have looked at how federal money has inflated college tuition and created bloat on college campuses. But most concerning of all is the way that Title IV money, the Pell Grants, and student loans that the federal government offers, have made American colleges and universities ideologically subservient to the passing political trends in Washington DC. As the old adage goes, “if you take the king’s coin, you become the king’s man.” Or as my friend Robert Bortins, president of Classical Conversations, Inc. is fond of saying, “With the shekels, come the shackles.” College dependence on Title IV money has brought with it a burden for colleges to demonstrate constant compliance – compliance with accrediting agencies, compliance with federal policies, and compliance with whatever new requirement might jeopardize the school’s existence. When the Fed says “jump,” we say “how high?”

This became particularly clear in Nixon’s 1972 amendments to the Higher Education Act. Nixon added Title IX, which declared that no school taking the federal money that was described under Title IV, could discriminate on the basis of gender. You probably know of Title IX because of its impact on college athletics. Because Title IX prohibits discrimination on college campuses based on gender, college athletic programs must spend equal money on both men's and women’s sports in order to be in compliance with Title IX and to keep their federal money coming. In the wake of Title IX’s implementation, scores of men’s sports were cut and new women’s programs were launched in an effort to rebalance athletic spending. Title IX has been especially cumbersome for college football, the most popular college sport by far since college football requires a disproportionate number of male athletes on the field. Now, because of Title IX, in order to launch a men’s football team, a college must usually also launch two women’s teams to compensate for the number of scholarships offered to the men’s football team. Women’s soccer, lacrosse, tennis, etc. all have to be launched in order to maintain balance with the football team.

"College athletic programs must spend equal money on both men's and women’s sports in order to be in compliance with Title IX and to keep their federal money coming."

But Title IX has subsequently been interpreted to address sexual harassment as well. The reasoning goes that if a woman experiences sexual harassment on a college campus, that harassment places an impediment between her and her education. And since she experienced that harassment because of her gender, this sexual harassment violates her Title IX rights. This makes sexual harassment on the college campus, quite literally, a federal issue. And so, through Title IX, the federal government has been able to step onto the campuses of colleges that take Title IV money to dictate how sexual harassment issues must be handled. In 2011, President Obama sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to all presidents of colleges accepting Title IV money. In this letter, Obama established a whole new set of procedures for handling sexual harassment and assault on the college campus. The burden of proof was set at the lowest possible bar of “preponderance of evidence,” meaning at least 51% of the evidence. Cross-examination of the accuser was discouraged, but double jeopardy for the accused was allowed. And schools needed to hire a full-time Title IV coordinator to ensure that their campus was in compliance. This created another necessary category of administrators in order to receive federal money.

And, in an episode that would be comic if it weren’t so tragic, college administrations across the nation, equipped with their great skill in policy creation and assessment, all threw themselves at the task of educating their students on how to correctly establish consent for sexual activity in order to establish clear lines for what was and what wasn’t sexual harassment. You might remember this moment when everyone was trying to establish a policy for establishing clear permission to engage in a sexual relationship. The results became laughable fodder for late-night television as college bureaucrats turned old-fashioned fornication into a very tedious game of sexual-mother-may-I? To be clear, I’m all for clarifying consent. But I think that we do much better by going with permission from her dad, a ring on her finger, and vows of “with all my worldly goods I thee endow,” as well as “till death do we part,” spoken in front of a room of witnesses. But this wasn’t what our college administrators had in mind.

"Our common sense has a way of getting the better of political sensibilities."

In 2016, President Obama issued another “Dear Colleague” letter, right at the end of his time in office. This letter took Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination according to gender and extended this to cover gender identity. This meant that a college taking Title IV money must accommodate transgender students by respecting their chosen names and pronouns, as well as allowing them access to the bathrooms, locker rooms, and other accommodations that corresponded to their gender of choice. This launched a barrage of spending on facilities as universities across the country attempted to remodel their bathrooms to accommodate these new requirements. It is worth noting that most campuses have opted to create bathrooms and showers that are gender-neutral and accommodate one person at a time, rather than attempt to just send biological males into a multi-person women’s restroom. Our common sense has a way of getting the better of political sensibilities.

Shortly after President Trump took office, his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama’s Dear Colleague letters. However, President Biden is currently reinstating many of these same policies. Watch closely to see how colleges and universities once again must bow to a twisted ideology just to keep the federal money flowing.