The Department of Athletics last night announced a major, three-year initiative to expand and improve the women's athletic program at Harvard.
When fully phased in, the move will enlarge the annual budget for women's sports at Harvard by more than $200,000, or roughly 20 percent, officials familiar with the program said.
The initiative comes after women athletes and their coaches complained publicly last spring about what they said was unequal treatment. It also follows lawsuits by women athletes at Brown University and Cornell University who charged their schools with violating a federal law mandating equal athletic opportunities for male and female students.
According to a press release, the new program includes the immediate elevation of the women's volleyball team from Level II to Level I status, meaning an expanded competition schedule and more funding for coaching, travel and player recruitment.
Harvard will add a junior varsity softball team, enhance the travel roster for the varsity softball team to include more NCAA Division I opponents, and hire additional staff to assist coaching of both women's lacrosse and basketball.
Practice times at the University's indoor sports facilities will be extended for both ice hockey and softball, the press release said, while practice schedules of other sports will be "adjusted," presumably to equalize the amount of time the facilities are available to teams of both sexes.
Next year, the women's ice hockey and softball programs will also become Level I sports. Additional medical and physical training staff will likely be added by the 1995-96 academic year.
All told, the changes will result in Harvard maintaining 13 men's and 13 women's sports at Level I status, and eight men's and seven women's sports at Level II status.
The press release did not specify who would provide the additional funds necessary for the initiative. Members of the Standing Committee on Athletic Sports last night referred all questions on funding to Director of Athletics William H. Cleary '56 and McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis '68, chair of the standing committee. Neither Cleary nor Lewis could be reached for comment.
Committee member Elizabeth S. Nathans, who is dean of freshmen, suggested that "the program [was] the beneficiary of very generous donations."
The announcement was remarkable both for its scale and because it was entirely unexpected. Sports Information Director John Veneziano said the program was revealed late in the day because Cleary wanted to inform coaches of the move before it was made public.
Contacted late last night, the coaches of several women's sports expressed surprise at the initiative. "I think that's really exciting," said women's crew Coach Holly Hatton. "I didn't know a thing, but I think it's stuff that had to happen."
The move came less than a year after an article in The Crimson raised questions about whether Harvard treats women's and men's sports equally. At the time, several athletes and coaches suggested that the University could be in violation of Title IX, part of a 1972 law which mandates "equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes."
In addition, a Crimson investigative report revealed in February that Harvard's funding of men's sports--nearly $2.3 million in fiscal 1992--was more than double what it spent on women's teams. Critics of the athletic department said the financial figures were tangible evidence of Harvard's bias in favor of men's sports.
But University officials countered that the disparities represented necessary differences in the cost of maintaining expensive men's programs,