UConn women's rowing alumni file Title IX complaint against university

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After nearly a year of writing letters to UConn’s board of trustees, its athletic director and its president, a group of 23 UConn rowing alumni filed a Title IX complaint on Monday with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the University of Connecticut following the announcement of the rowing program’s elimination from the university last summer due to budget cuts.

The complaint, which the rowing alumni have kept confidential, focuses on not only the implications of cutting the rowing program, but also centers on UConn’s annual reports with the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis. The complaint claims the university is inaccurately reporting its compliance with Title IX.

“Part of being alumni being invested in this, is really because we’re looking for a culture change and we’re just trying to educate and enlighten people and we want to make people understand from our perspective, as it pertains to the UConn women’s rowing team, that this isn’t right,” UConn rowing alum Dana Haddad (who rowed for the Huskies from 2008-2010) said. “You can’t manipulate these numbers and think you can get away with it. So plan B, isn’t necessarily what happens to the team, but can we create a little buzz around a culture shift and how women athletes are being treated.”

The university was directed last year to reduce its athletic department budget by 25 percent annually over the course of the next three years. On June 24, 2020, UConn announced it would be eliminating the rowing program, along with its men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, and men’s cross-country programs following the 2020-2021 season to begin its budget cutting efforts.

“As alumni we identify and we really understand the benefits that women’s rowing has not only on the university ecosystem but on the community as a whole,” UConn rowing alum Ashley Kalinauskas (who rowed from 2008-2011) said. “Being able to have strong women come out of the program, both physically, mentally and educationally, we really believe that rowing adds to the university’s athletic program. As alumni, I don’t want to see that next generation of students not be able to have a program or for very well qualified students look to other schools that have a rowing program and miss the educational opportunities that are available and amazing at UConn because of that.”

As of Wednesday morning, UConn had not been officially been served with the rowing team’s complaint and therefore could not directly address it.

“The decision to eliminate four Division 1 Athletic Teams, including Women’s Rowing, was painful and not made lightly. However, it was clear that the University had no choice but to eliminate teams in order to preserve the long-term viability of the athletics program,” Reitz wrote in an email to Hearst CT Media on Wednesday.

Along with cutting the four programs in June, UConn announced the athletic department would reduce overall operating expenses by 15 percent on top of removing five scholarships from men’s track and field and one from men’s golf. Athletic director David Benedict also took a voluntary 15-percent pay cut.

“UConn used its best efforts to eliminate as few teams as possible in the review, which included a careful analysis of Title IX compliance,” UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “While the University certainly understands and appreciates the disappointment of those who supported the Women’s Rowing Team, we are confident that our actions in regard to that team and the other three eliminated teams were consistent with the University’s obligations under Title IX.

“Everyone involved in the discussions at UConn wishes the University had the resources to maintain and create even more opportunities; however, it was compelled to make cuts so that the long-term viability and success of the UConn athletics program was not jeopardized. Accordingly, the University will not be revisiting the decision to eliminate the Women’s Rowing Team, or any of the other three eliminated teams.”

w Soccer Letter in Support Signed Copy 3.26 by NHRSports on Scribd

Under Title IX, a federal law created in 1972, universities which receive federal funding must present equal opportunity to all students, without discrimination to sex, to educational programs such as intercollegiate athletics.

Every year universities which collect federal funding are mandated to report its athletic participation numbers and coaching salaries to The Equity in Athletics Data Analysis. To remain compliant under Title IX, a university’s student-athlete male-to-female ratio must be relativity similar to its student population male-to-female ratio.

According to its 2018-2019 EADA report, UConn listed 387 male student-athletes and 398 female student-athletes, 61 of which came from the rowing team. That same school year UConn reported 8,998 male students and 9,399 female students. UConn’s reports for the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years were not available through the EADA online database.

The rowing alumni’s complaint mentions this data incorrect since it comes from the number of participants on the first day of a sport’s scheduled contest, instead of including data from transfers, cuts, or late additions to the roster.

The ratios comparing the two populations for the 2018-2019 school year are shown below:

Total population

Male Participants

Female Participants

Student-Athletes: 785

387

398

Student: 18,397

8,998

9,399

Population Ratios

Male Participants

Female Participants

Student-Athletes

49.3%

50.7%

Students

48.9 %

51.1%

On Monday, March 29, a group of UConn soccer alumni wrote a letter to the university’s president, Thomas C. Katsouleas, supporting the rowing alumni in asking to reinstate the rowing program. In 1979, UConn added women’s soccer as a varsity sport after the program filed a Title IX complaint issuing UConn was out of Ttile IX compliance by denying the club program’s request for varsity status the previous year.

This past summer Katie Ross Ullinger started a petition asking for more time for the program to fundraise in hopes of being able to come up with enough money to reinstate the team.

Currently, the petition has more than 8,000 signatures.

“UConn Rowing is one of few programs with an all-women coaching staff that leads by example and provides opportunities to women to help them grow as athletes, students, leaders and people. Because the other teams who will no longer be sponsored were given several weeks notice and were able to raise money, please consider signing this petition to allow more time for the program to fundraise,” writes Ullinger on the petition’s website.

The group of rowing alumni are waiting to hear the results of the OCR’s investigation into their complaint against the university. While Haddad and Kalinauskas understand there is a possibility of the rowing program not being reinstated despite the complaint, they’re hoping their awareness of the situation brings more attention to the discrepancies between men and women’s athletics, specifically with lower-profile sports like rowing.

“Part of why we’re so invested is because it’s beyond rowing,” Haddad said. “There is systemic sexism in sports and it’s such an uphill battle for female athletes. When you look at what’s happening with March Madness and the weight room incident for example, you are already seeing this. Like these are the best players in the country, they’ve got all of these titles under them, and they still aren’t treated equally. When you trickle down to these rowing teams you just only imagine what people get away with.”

UConn’s rowing team is scheduled to compete in seven regattas this season, including the CAA Championships in May.

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com