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University continues female-only awards despite signing legal agreement to include all genders

‘Sex-based discrimination is still unlawful even if it advantages the ‘right’ sex for the ‘right’ reason,’ scholar says

Northwood University, which has run a female-only award program since 1970, appears to be ignoring a legal agreement it signed in January to open the program to all eligible individuals regardless of sex.

Civil rights watchdog Mark J. Perry told The College Fix via email that Northwood openly defied the legal agreement with its Sept. 13 announcement of the five latest female recipients of the Distinguished Women Awards.

He added the university, a private Michigan-based institution, even expanded the awards by introducing the new Distinguished Young Women category.

Perry*, in a recent interview with The College Fix, called the situation an “unprecedented case of the president of a school signing a legally binding agreement with [the Office for Civil Rights], and then basically defying that agreement and carrying on with ‘discrimination as usual.’”

The College Fix reached out to the award program’s representative and Northwood’s communications and public relations team for comment, but has yet to receive a response.

Perry is a retired University of Michigan Flint professor who has filed 870 federal civil rights complaints against American universities to ensure they evenly enforce Title IX and Title VI.

Perry lodged a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on July 1, 2022, alleging violations of Title IX by Northwood in its female-only Distinguished Women Awards and female-only Women in Enterprise Scholarship.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in any education program activity operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance. Northwood is subject to Title IX as it receives federal funding.

Before the OCR could complete its investigation, Northwood chose to enter into a resolution agreement with the office. It was signed by a university representative on Jan. 23, 2023.

The agreement required Northwood to open the awards and scholarships to all eligible individuals regardless of sex by Jan. 30. The university also needed to provide documentation by Feb. 13 to the OCR proving compliance with these changes.

Perry told The College Fix that Northwood failed to make the required changes to its website by the deadline and only made a few “minor insincere cosmetic changes” later.

The Distinguished Women Awards website now includes the boilerplate wording: “Consistent with its non-discrimination policy, Northwood’s programs and awards, including the Distinguished Women Award, are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sex or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.”

Perry said he contacted the OCR three times after the deadline about Northwood’s failure to comply with its resolution agreement. OCR representatives said they would continue to monitor Northwood’s website and its compliance, or non-compliance, with its signed resolution agreement, Perry said.

According to Northwood’s main website for the Distinguished Women Awards, the university encourages recipients of the Distinguished Women Award to “participate in the growth of the Women in Enterprise Fund,” which is a female-only scholarship.

Northwood’s Sept. 13 announcement of the five latest female awardees was disappointing but not surprising to Perry, who said Northwood has been discriminating against men for over 50 years and just cannot imagine not having the awards and scholarship every fall.

Perry recently filed a similar complaint against Duke University, alleging its female-only Alice M. Baldwin Scholars Program violates Title IX as it “operates exclusively for female students and illegally excludes and discriminates against non-female students based on their sex and gender identity.”

“With Title IX, there’s no ‘we-had-good-intentions’ exceptions,” Perry said, noting “sex-based discrimination is still unlawful even if it advantages the ‘right’ sex for the ‘right’ reason.”

*Mark Perry is an editorial consultant to The College Fix on a project unrelated to this article.

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About the Author
Matthew Xiao -- Cornell University