March 13, 1984 | Executive Memorandum on Education
THE GROVE CITY DE CISION AND CIVIL RIGHTS
The immediate reaction to the Supreme Court's. decision in the Grove City College.case has been far out of proportion'to the actual effect of the holding. In its ruling, the C ourt'held 9-0 that-scholarship aid to students who attend private colleges constitutes'aid to those colleges. The Court also ruled 6-2 that "any education program or activity receiv- ing federal financial assistance" (the language of Title-IX of the 1972 Education Act) means only the-.specific program receiving the-assistance (in this case the financial aid program of Grove City College,'Pennsyl- vania), and-not-the entire institution.
Of the two.parts of the decision, the formet.seems to have the potentia l for far wider impact. The number of institutions (educational and other) potentially affected by the "federal aid" question is much larger than the:number actually affected by the "narrowing" of the scope of Title IX. Nevertheless the outcry has concern e d almost exclusively the second part of the decision. The charge has been made that this decision "guts" civil rights enforcement in the United States and that "it's the end of" the office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education., These charges ar e without merit and show littleregard.for the facts. The decision in ' no way will impair the federal government's ability'to enhance and defend civil rights.
In the firstplace, the federal government dispenses billions of dollars -in different sorts of ai d to many different kinds of educational programs and institutions. It awards billions more to individual stu- dents participating in a wide variety of programs. Under the Grove City ruling, even if this aid is indirect, it will bring the recipient insti- tutions under the federal purview. These aid programs continue to pro- vide for the government an important role in civil rights enforcement.
Federal "impact aid," for example, is a form of general federal aid going to entire school districts. Under the G rove City ruling, the entire district, including -its athletic programs,- will be subject 'to Title IX, unless the district can manage to-show that the special pro- gram does not receive any benefit -from the federal dollars--a difficult task indeed.2
As another example, federal aid to several hundred colleges for the construction of-athleticfacilities establishes.civil rights coverage for the athletic programs using the facilities. ' This coverage is unaf- fected by the Grove.City ruling, or is perhap s even enhanced by it.
Discrimination in federally fun ded research projects, moreover, remainsIllegal and unaffected.by Grove-City. And of course, discrimi- nation in-admissions (with the limited exceptions explicitly written into the statute) is as illeg al and unacceptable today as it was the day before the Grove City case came down. That is so because discrimination in admission "at the front door," so to speak, automatically entails discrimination in any other program operated by the institution. Ifthe Department of Education bureaucrat who fears that his Office for Civil Rights is now obsolete cannot find anything to do under Grove City, he is not looking very hard.
in sum, the Grove City opinion is a reasonable interpretation of the scope of Title IX. It does not obliterate civil rights law in the United States. Before the Congress rushes to legislate in this diffi- cult area, it should spend some time digesting the decision, its ration- ale and-its implications. It should also look carefully at the f irst half of the decision, and decide whether it is happy with the potential implications for private institutions that follow from it. .
While the second part of the Grove City ruling is no threat to civil rights enforcement, the Court's unanimous-support of the notion of in- direct federal aid is extremely disturbing.' If an institution is deemed a recipient of federal aid because some of its customers or clients re- ceive federal assistance, does that mean regulating every local super- market'that accep t s food stamps--or even cash--from aperson receiving federal aid? Must every private institution in the country scrutinize the means of support of its customers and systematically discriminate if it is to avoid coming under the control of the federal gover nment?
If Grove City requires some legislative adjustment, it should come after mature reflection, and not under pressure from those anxious to find outrageous sexism even in a 6-2 Supreme Court decision.
Gordon S. Jones Vice President The Heritage:Foundation}}