Winter 2011 Correspondence

Women outpace men in academics

Jack Sullivan’s “False Start” (Fall ’10) stated that “women athletes at state schools….still run far behind men in nearly every measure of equal treatment.”  Focused as it was on athletics, the article failed to mention that for nearly two decades women have run well ahead of men in academic success.

Since 1982, when college graduation rates of men and women be­came equal, women have decisively surpassed men in academic accomplishment. According to research reported in the journal Demography, women stay in college longer, receive 58 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US, go to graduate school more often than men, and earn a disproportionate share of honors degrees.

That this advantage exists is clearer than the reasons for it, which remain mysterious. A number of factors have been studied with inconclusive results. These include expectations of better income, more stable marriages, and a higher standard of living. Is it possible that a simpler explanation might be that women— less distracted, physically challenged, and spared the hours required for athletic performance—are able to pay more productive attention to learning, which used to be what college was about? Might it be that men’s lagging academic performance is due to their spending so much time participating in and thinking about sports?  Will increased sports participation among women reduce their academic success?  More compliance with Title IX may provide a natural experiment to answer this question.

Miles F. Shore
Needham

Progress on Title IX

False Start” highlighted many of the challenges facing colleges and universities as they take steps to comply with Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act.

As a rule, Title IX is embraced by the athletics community in public higher education because it speaks to fairness for our students. The article shines a light on an important law that is far more complex than many may realize. What went unmentioned in the piece were the significant efforts made by UMass Lowell to continue to make progress toward equality in athletics during challenging economic times.

Since 2000, the university’s women’s teams have captured 23 conference championships and appeared in 43 NCAA tournaments. The field hockey team has made five trips to the NCAA championship game and won the university’s first-ever national championship by a women’s team in 2005.

UMass Lowell’s female student-athletes regularly achieve a grade point average higher than 3.0.

Women athletes have made extraordinary contributions to UMass Lowell’s designation as a community-engaged campus by the Carnegie Foun­da­tion for Excellence in Teach­ing.

UMass Lowell’s efforts to address inequities between men’s and women’s athletic programs have been steady since its first gender equity plan was developed in 1997. With that first plan, the goal was to bring all programs into full compliance with Title IX by the mid-2000s. Ensuring an equitable experience for male and female student-athletes was always the ideal.

Since then, the university in­creased participant and coaching opportunities for women, built or renovated women’s practice and game facilities, provided new office space for coaches, and added new locker rooms for women’s teams. This progress was achieved by raising funds through new external sources, reallocating athletic department resources, and increasing operational support by the university. To ensure continued vigilance, the campus appointed a gender equity coordinator and a standing Gender Equity Committee.

The most significant hurdle to full compliance with Title IX regulations is matching the resources committed to the Division I men’s hockey program. Elevating an existing women’s sport to Division I status is under consideration by UMass Lowell, but such a move will be affected by new NCAA regulations that restrict universities from moving single sports from one NCAA division to another.

A holistic assessment of UMass Lowell’s position regarding this issue would have to recognize the university’s overall gains regarding women’s athletics.  A sustained commitment to the university’s 1997 gender equity plan enabled the campus to make noticeable strides toward equity, but the plan stalled in 2007 as a result of an economic collapse that had a dramatic impact on funding for many colleges and universities. A recent review of gender equity at UMass Lowell produced new strategies to continue on a path to full compliance. This plan was developed with input from coaches and the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Com­mit­tee. It is an open and honest approach,one that has ensured a cooperative effort to help identify ways to continue progress even during the most challenging economic times.

Dana Skinner
Director of Athletics
University of Massachusetts Lowell

The following letters were posted on­line at CommonWealthmagazine.org.

No love for BIDs

A BID (“A business improvement district in Boston—finally,” Fall ’10) is a terrible idea. We should all be on a level playing field. BIDs are simply a way for the city to collect a tax (which it is) without having to call it a tax. The city should pay for things it promises: clean streets and safe neighborhoods. The owners of properties around there should be livid. Expanding this to other areas is a terrible idea. And, you can bet that if certain people pay up, they’ll get special treatment from the city.

John A. Keith

Who is ‘paying to play’?

Documentation of the shift in money and power politics on Beacon Hill is interesting (“Power is a money magnet on Beacon Hill,” Fall ’10) but mundanely predictable. What would be of equal if not greater interest would be the analysis of the donors and the parallels to pending legislation. Specifically, who is “paying to play” for what gain on Beacon Hill? That is the level of transparency needed.

Kathleen Conley

Story misses point

Jack Sullivan’s commentary on the MBTA/Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail On-Time Report Cards (“Time on T’s side,” Fall ’10) completely misses the point about transparency on the commuter rail.

MBCR’s Report Card program gives the public direct access to On Time Performance (OTP) for MBTA commuter rail service. The “Actual On Time Performance” report card summarizes the actual experience of customers on a system-wide basis, as well as for each commuter rail line. This report lists factors that led to delays, ranging from stormy weather to equipment failure to conflicts with other rail service (Amtrak and freight).

In order to give our customers an honest and balanced look into the commuter rail’s on-time performance, MBCR also publicly reports “adjusted” on time performance. This report reflects OTP as it is defined under the contractual relationship between MBCR and the MBTA.

MBCR makes both reports publicly available to its customers in order to ensure full disclosure of all information related to commuter rail performance and public awareness of the fundamental difference between delays that are the fault of MBCR as operator of the service and delays that occur because of things outside MBCR’s control.

Had Sullivan taken the time to peruse a few of the two publicly available reports (available at www.mbcr. net) he would have seen that his reporting was missing the intent of the documents.

In fact, MBCR does report that delays due to mechanical failures are incidents within its control. In fact, MBCR is penalized financially for every train that is delayed due to mechanical failure. The same holds true if MBCR fails to have equipment available or if MBCR does not provide enough staff to operate a train.

Considering that Sullivan has reported extensively on the issue of track tie failure on the Old Colony branches, it was curious to see him highlight the reporting of delays associated with tie replacement on the line. Does he wish to infer that MBCR is wrong to report these delays in both terms of actual delay as well as the underlying cause? These ties were installed before MBCR’s arrival in 2003.

MBCR is one of the few, if not only, commuter rail service providers in the United States to publicly report its performance for better or worse. MBCR will continue to provide information to our passengers and other interested observers about all aspects of the service. And we welcome comments from anyone about our service, our employees and our information efforts.

Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail