Special Reports

Dr. David Parrott Reflects on 50 Years of Social Progress in Universities


Dr. David Parrott

Photo : Dr. David Parrott

In June, America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of an educational breakthrough in equality. The federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in all programs of federally funded educational institutions - a landmark ruling for women and girls in particular. Expert, Administrative alumni at UF and Texas A&M, and current U of L admin, Dr. David Parrott weighs in on the changes it's gone through in the last half-century.

David Parrott explains that over the past decade, educational equity has undergone a major evolution. Up until this point, much of the focus for this statute revolved around equal funding and access to women's sports and activities. However, over the past 10 years, the country has seen some major movements and changes, and these have altered the focus of this statute. The Me Too movement forced educational establishments to look at the steps they're taking to prevent sexual assaults and ensure they're listening to students. Gender fluidity has created more knowledge about gender classifications, which is changing everything from who can use which bathroom to who can participate in gender-assigned sports. And mental health is an important topic, with colleges recognizing the need to ensure that all their students have equal access to counseling and mental health programs.

"This is the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972," says Parrott, who has worked at the University of Louisville, University of Florida (UF), Texas A&M University, Western Michigan University, and Western Kentucky University. "It basically says that no one who participates in a federally funded program should be discriminated against based on their sex. And then it's got a history, and we ended up with some regulations that were passed in 2020 that drive how we enforce that statute. When I teach law classes, I tell people when we're talking about contract law, that when you look at a contract, the big print giveth and the small print taketh away, and pay attention to that."

Parrott knows from whence he speaks. Some of the roles he's filled in the higher education sector include vice president, interim vice president, executive associate vice president, chief of staff, dean of students, and ADA coordinator. Serving in these roles has given him a unique insight into how Title IX has been used, is currently being used and will be used in the future.

Why It was Established in 1972

The women's rights movement was growing in the 1960s and 1970s. Many women were pointing out it was difficult for them to reach the same level of success as men because it was harder for them to get an education. A lower percentage of women were admitted into colleges compared to men. At the time, it was significantly harder for women to get into law school and medical school. The title was originally designed to help ensure that women had the same access to federally funded educational programs and activities as men did. David Parrott explains that the program was well-intentioned and immediately helped women further their education. Within a decade of the statute being passed, more women than ever before were earning degrees, including doctorate degrees.

He says: "Generally speaking, it was viewed as an equity and sports law. If you talked about it before 2011, you were talking about athletic issues, whether you had the right amount of opportunities for men versus women in your athletic venue, that's primarily what it was. And then there was some employment case law and so forth that you couldn't discriminate based on gender and employment, but it really didn't cover the educational sphere in terms of discrimination until 2011."

What Is It Best Known For?

Dr. David Parrott is absolutely correct. When people think of the title, they often think of sports and women. While it was originally designed to help women get into colleges and achieve their educational and career goals, that objective was pretty quickly met. The wording in the statute allowed for it to be used not only for education but for federally funded educational activities and sports. This is what it would eventually be known for. Women started to realize that colleges in particular were spending more federal money on men's sports and activities. Women then started to fight to get their share of funding and get gyms, weight rooms, uniforms, and other things that were equal to what men's programs were receiving. To this day, when the term is mentioned, most people automatically equate it to women's sports, without realizing that the statute focuses on so much more than just this one element.

How Has It Evolved Over the Years?

Dr. David Parrott explains: "In 2011, the Obama administration put out what's called a "Dear Colleague" letter, 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.

"Then in 2016, while I was at UF,  the Trump administration rescinded the Obama administration's "Dear Colleague" letter. That's the other problem with 'Dear Colleague' letters: Every time you change administrations, one administration can rescind the other ones. In 2017, the Trump administration put their own 'Dear Colleague' letter in place. And then between 2017 and 2020, they had gone through the rigorous exercise of writing regulations and going through all of the steps you do to get those approved. They were approved and published in 2020. And we had 100 days to get it in compliance. And so every university scrambled to get in compliance with those 2,000 pages of regulations."

Where Are We Now and What's in Store for the Future?

Currently, the title is focused on equality for students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 

David Parrott has dedicated decades of his life to helping others achieve their educational goals. During his career at Texas A&M, UF, U of L, and elsewhere, he has seen the various ways that it has changed higher education, and how the changes that politics and changing views have caused it to evolve and change. What started as a statute that was designed to help women further their education has evolved into something that has helped women's athletics change for the better and is now helping those who are transgender or part of the LGBTQ community have the same rights as everyone else. Educational institutions need to evolve as the world changes, and Title IX helps to ensure that these institutions change with the world and that no one is discriminated against based on their gender or sexual orientation.

And Dr. David Parrott remains dedicated to his work in higher education.

"I think the major theme for people who work in higher education is that you realize that you are bringing somebody into a venue that's transformative and you're a part of that transformational process and you're being transformed by it also constantly," he muses. "So there's a new crop of 18-year-olds every year, and a new crop of graduate students, and a new crop of professional students, and a new crop of doctoral students, and all of them shape the environment and shape me, and I shape them. And the analogy is, you have to pay attention to the individual and the collective at the same time."

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