Mark J. Perry, a professor of economics and finance in the School of Management at the University of Michigan-Flint campus, confirmed that he filed the original complaint against Ohio State over its women-only programs. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Ohio State has restructured eight programs after a complaint said the university discriminated against men and boys by excluding them from several scholarships and programs.

The complaint was sent to the Department of Education’s Cleveland Office for Civil Rights July 21 by Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint. In the complaint, Perry detailed nine Ohio State programs he wanted to be investigated for “illegal sex discrimination.” However, a Title IX expert says the programs might not have necessarily been illegal. 

The programs ranged from an engineering camp for girls to a scholarship for women who have had their education interrupted due to unforeseen obstacles such as family obligations or financial difficulties. 

In a Dec. 5 letter to Ohio State, the Cleveland office notified the university of the complaint and that the department would be opening an investigation. Because Ohio State receives federal financial assistance, the university must comply with Title IX, which prohibits “discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity.”

However, Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, an attorney who specializes in Title IX and its dynamics in higher education, said some of the programs might not be in violation because of Title IX exemptions that say separation by sex is allowed if it offers “remedial or affirmative action” and that programs can be offered to just women “to overcome the effects of conditions which resulted in limited participation therein by persons of a particular sex.” 

Perry’s complaint said men and boys were not permitted to apply for the nine scholarships and programs, an issue he said represents a “blind spot” and a double standard in higher education.

“We’re still treating women as if they’re facing obstacles and challenges and directing financial resources that are not only illegal, according to Title IX, but I’m saying they’re really unnecessary today to get special preferences for women when they’re the ones that have been more successful in higher education than men for almost 40 years,” he said.

Tracy-Ramirez said that despite progress, women still face significant obstacles across institutions and disciplines.

“His sorts of complaints can be an opportunity for the institutions and programs and awards to say, ‘Do we still need this right to to help achieve equity or with respect to this particular program. Are we already in a place where we don’t need to do that anymore?’” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as, ‘We no longer face discrimination. Everybody’s equal. Everything is equitable.’”

Perry said he has filed more than 100 similar complaints at universities across the country, making it his “one-man mission” to fix the programs he says are discriminatory.

Perry said the gold standard is programs that make no mention of sex or gender identity.

“Single-sex, female-only programs not only discriminate against men, they discriminate against people who don’t maybe identify as men or women, or they’re transgender, transsexual, gender non conforming, gender fluid,” he said.

Title IX law is complicated when it comes to sexuality, gender, and gender identity and expression, Tracy-Ramirez said, but institutions can evaluate whether programs are still serving the intended purpose if they receive feedback that certain students feel excluded.

The programs and awards at Ohio State Perry said were exclusionary were:

  • Summer Engineering Camp for Middle School Girls at the Marion campus
  • 2019 Data Science for Women Summer Camp at the Columbus campus
  • The Women in Engineering program
  • The Women in Engineering Learning Community
  • Critical Difference for Women re-entry scholarships
  • Critical Difference Development Grants
  • The Mary Ann Williams Woman’s Leadership Award
  • The Ruthmarie Mitsch Professional Development Award
  • The Dr. Patricia Cunningham II Commitment to Service Award

Perry said he thinks women should view these programs as an insult and a sign that their administrators think women need “special help or attention.”

“It fits in with kind of the current social justice narrative that women are victims and so they need extra help and attention and resources as if they’re somehow inferior to men when I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.

The office requested in its letter to the university that Ohio State send descriptions and eligibility requirements of the programs and awards, as well as a list of students who applied for the camps, programs and scholarships.

Ohio State’s response said it restructured all but one of the programs and is evaluating the fairness of the remaining program.

“Ohio State supports Title IX and is committed to providing equal access to education programs and activities,” university spokesperson Ben Johnson said in an email. “The university has responded to the Office for Civil Rights, and is working to ensure that all of its programming is gender inclusive.”

Tracy-Ramirez said she hopes the university did “soul searching” before making the changes.

“I’d really hope that they have taken some of the thoughts and some of the critiques to heart and really thought about what makes the most sense for their community and not just what makes the most sense for our bottom line,” she said.

The Mary Ann Williams Woman’s Leadership Award, Ruthmarie Mitsch Professional Development Award and Dr. Patricia Cunningham II Commitment to Service Award — three staff and faculty awards presented by the Association of Staff and Faculty Women —  will be open to all genders and gender identities for 2020, according to the university’s response.

The Data Science for Women Summer Camp is advertised to all students who attend Columbus-area schools, and according the response, the application “has always allowed students of any gender or gender identity to apply, including males and those who identify as transgender.”

No applicants have been rejected from the summer camp unless they did not meet the application deadline, according to the response.

The Summer Engineering Camp for Middle School Girls’ 2020 requirements were updated to allow “any interested middle school student regardless of gender” to apply, according to the response.

The university said the College of Engineering has many programs “open to all students regardless of gender identity.” In the response, Ohio State also stated that the Women in Engineering Learning Community served 60 female students in 2019, but the Engineering House Learning Community served more than 100 male students.

“Although the EHLC is not referred to as the Men in Engineering Learning Community (MIE LC) it can certainly be considered a male dominated hall and an equitable offering for males not residing in the WIE LC,” the response stated.

Tracy-Ramirez said she “wouldn’t encourage anyone to think poorly” of Perry for trying to push the conversation around Title IX and that programs may vary in their abilities to meet goals of equity and inclusion.

“We’re going to need to have some complicated conversations,” she said. “And I would always encouraged those conversations to include a wide range of opinions and perspectives because that’s how you get to some of the better solutions.”