The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Temple University's athletic department for possible Title IX gender-equity issues, university president Neal D. Theobald said.
In a letter to Temple's board of trustees and the coaches of seven sports the board has voted to cut, Theobold said the department's Office for Civil Rights is looking into whether "the University is failing to provide equal athletic opportunity for female athletes compared to male athletes, with regard to Locker Rooms, Practice and Competitive Facilities, Housing and Dining Facilities and Services, and in the area of Athletic Financial Assistance."
Theobald said Thursday in a telephone interview that he received notification of the investigation Monday, but he was not told what had prompted it.
"There must have been someone who filed a complaint," Theobald said.
With many government offices in Washington closed to nonessential employees Thursday because of the snowstorm, an e-mail and phone call to the Department of Education were not returned.
Theobold's letter also provided an update of a review of the decision to cut baseball, softball, men's indoor track and track and field, men's crew, and women's rowing after this academic year. Included was an appraisal of a suggestion to give the sports five years to reach "self-sustainability."
"The fund-raising required to sustain these seven teams dwarfs the most successful athletics fund-raising performance in Temple's history," Theobald wrote. "An endowment of more than $60 million would be needed to generate the current annual operating costs of these teams, not including facilities upgrades and coaches' salaries.
"Even if we were able to endow these sports, our Athletic Department would still be woefully underfunded - 85 percent of Temple athletics programs are in the bottom third of operating budgets in the American [Athletic] Conference (not to mention the budgets of powerhouse conferences). We cannot build and sustain a Division I athletics program if we continue to spread our resources so thinly across 24 teams."
One issue not addressed in the letter was a review of the feasibility of rehabbing the East Park Canoe House for the men's crew and women's rowing teams. Theobald had said he wanted more information about the costs of such a project, since the absence of a boathouse is the reason those sports are being cut, he said.
"We're continuing to look at the possibility of renovating space down there for rowing," Theobald said Thursday.
Theobald also said in the letter that he saw problems with proposals involving facilities for baseball, softball, and men's gymnastics.
In an e-mail Thursday, men's gymnastics coach Fred Turoff said, "We already share space with our women's team, and it hasn't kept us from success."
Theobald said the issue with men's gymnastics is more about scholarships, but he added that simply doing away with men's scholarships wasn't the solution.
"That's not what we're looking to do as far as an experience for our kids - to use the very limited resources so they can have academic support and facilities and allow you to have a first-class program across the board," he said.
Turoff passed along a longer response from Sue Borschel, a lawyer and mother of a women's gymnastics team member, representing the T-7 council of alumni and parents reviewing the cuts.
"There has been no willingness to sit down with the coaches to discuss the solutions that they have spent hundreds of hours to develop," Borschel wrote to Theobald and the board, mentioning that 15 minutes at a recent meeting was all each sport got to make its case.
About the Title IX complaint, Borschel wrote, "Everybody wants to make sure that Temple remains NCAA-certified for compliance, but we seem to disagree on how to get there. We agree there are some facilities problems at Temple. We also agree that there is a misallocation-of-scholarships problem at Temple. However, the Department of Education . . . is clear that eliminating teams is not the preferred solution, and we have provided solutions that would have cut off at the pass that OCR [Office for Civil Rights] filing.
"Ironically, we understand that OCR filing was made because of the crew facilities, for which we now have a solid solution," she wrote. "If you adopt every one of the solutions we have carefully developed, that OCR filing (and any future ones contemplated) will all go away - we guarantee it.
"That you expected there to be [a] problem just makes it all the more disappointing that you did not engage the stakeholders in coming up with a solution to the problem more quickly before the OCR was filed. It took the coaches only 30 days to put solutions into place, so this most certainly could have been avoided."
Theobold said in his letter, "We continue reviewing all suggestions. At this point, I remain convinced that the difficult decision to rightsize our program and create a sustainable model for Temple athletics moving forward remains in the best interest of all of our 39,000 students and for Temple University as a whole. I look forward to further discussing this issue later this month."
As for the OCR investigation, Theobold said in the interview, "We will have a plan in place well before they ever have any kind of ruling."