The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Syracuse University for alleged sex discrimination against men.
The federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights opened the inquiry on March 4 after receiving a Title IX complaint during the fall semester.
Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, in an interview said he filed the complaint. Perry said he has brought more than 120 similar Title IX and Title VI complaints against colleges around the country, prompting 60 OCR investigations.
The Daily Orange obtained his SU complaint under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a two-page letter to OCR, the professor accused SU of discriminating against boys and men by running three girls- and women-only STEM programs: the It Girls Overnight Retreat, the Women in Science and Engineering Future Professionals Program and the WiSE Postdocs program.
Sarah Scalese, senior associate vice president for university communications, in a statement said SU takes its Title IX obligations seriously.
“Like the many other colleges and universities facing similar complaints lodged by the same complainant, the University intends to defend these important programs,” Scalese said.
Allegations like Perry’s have been popping up frequently over the last year or so, higher education experts said. The new phenomena coincides with a nationwide flood of Title IX lawsuits filed by men alleging anti-male bias in the campus adjudication of sexual misconduct cases.
“Do I think this (single-sex) issue would have gained momentum, if not for being on the heels of the disciplinary part of Title IX?” said Andrew Miltenberg, a Title IX attorney at Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP. “No, I don’t.”
Perry, who teaches economics and finance, has been on a “one-man mission” to promote Title IX compliance since 2016, he said, after first filing a complaint against Michigan State University over a women-only lounge. Perry said he wants schools to apply the civil rights law “uniformly” and “consistently.” Title IX bans sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding.
The college enrollment rate for women has outpaced men for years in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — which Perry said supports his cause.
“Women have been the majority,” he said, “and that gender imbalance continues to grow.”
But some Title IX experts said universities have launched girls- and women-only science, technology, engineering and math programs to remediate a long-standing inequity.
“There’s been a gender gap in STEM,” said Monica Beck, a Title IX attorney at the Fierberg National Law Group. “There are far more men than women, historically.”
In a report sent to Congress on Jan. 15, the National Science Board said women in 2017 accounted for 27% of computer and mathematical scientists, 16% of engineers and 29% of physical scientists in the U.S.
The report found that women were underrepresented in the country’s science and engineering workforce.
One of the programs that Perry challenged at SU was founded in 2011 to introduce high school girls to information technology. That program, the It Girls Overnight Retreat, was recently expanded into It Girls Summer College.
The other two SU programs under federal investigation provide mentoring opportunities to women graduate students and postdocs in STEM.
Shiwali Patel, a former OCR attorney who now works at the National Women’s Law Center, argued that women-only STEM programs can be legitimate affirmative action efforts. Title IX regulations allow schools to establish “compensatory” education programs to address the “limited participation” of one gender due to past discrimination, she said.
“Men’s rights advocates, frankly, have felt emboldened by the Trump administration to file and to keep filing these complaints,” said Patel, the NWLC’s director of justice for student survivors and senior counsel.
“It seems like (people are) kind of pushing, moving forward this false narrative that because of progress made for women, men are now the victims,” she said.
Yet Perry’s track record with Title IX complaints is near-perfect, he said.
At the University of Central Arkansas, the school’s president on March 4 agreed to resolve one of the professor’s complaints before an OCR investigation ended, records show.
The public college told OCR it would open a girls-specific STEM program “to all students regardless of sex.”
Further north in Michigan, at Grand Valley State University, officials struck a similar deal Feb. 4. The school pledged to modify its Science Technology & Engineering Preview Summer camp, records show. The program’s website was recently updated to say applications won’t be denied based on gender identity, according to internet archives.
After Perry filed a Title IX complaint against the University of Wisconsin-Stout in December 2018, the state school said its STEPS for Girls summer camp was going on “hiatus” due to its “single-sex nature.”
“My current goal or mission is to have a greater awareness of true gender equality on college campuses,” Perry said, “and … to just have Title IX be really the way it was intended.”
The professor said he typically searches Google for women-only STEM programs to challenge.
W. Scott Lewis, co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators and a partner at TNG LLC, said he advises colleges to regularly evaluate single-sex programs like those targeted in Perry’s complaints.
“Did it work? Did the numbers go up? Are male numbers going down? That would be a problem too, right? What’s going on there? Could we just have a ‘mentoring program,’ you know? Or does it need to be just for women?” Lewis said of engineering schools. “I try to coach our clients to sort of be in the middle ground.
“There’s not a magic bullet.”