GRAND FORKS — When the University of North Dakota cut its women’s hockey program in 2017, it stunned the community, the state and, to an extent, the nation. The team often was among the nation’s best, producing 10 Olympians and earning a place in UND’s storied hockey tradition.
Now, four years later, the decision to cut the program is being reassessed by the courts, leaving some to wonder what could happen next.
Should UND reinstate the women’s hockey program? Our hearts say yes, but our heads believe it’s probably best left dormant, since it would require great effort — and great funds, possibly at the expense of existing programs — to reinstate it.
Instead, we appreciate the decision to revisit the case since it will help answer an important question: Were the women on the team legally wronged by UND’s decision?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has reversed a decision made in 2019 by the North Dakota District Court to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by a group of former UND women’s hockey team members. The Eighth Circuit’s decision sends the case back to North Dakota District Court for further review.
The lawsuit claims UND violated Title IX when it cut the women’s hockey program in 2017, but it was dismissed in federal court in June 2019. Title IX ensures no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participating in or be denied the benefits of a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.
The goal of the suit was to reinstate the women’s hockey team; the players were not seeking financial damages outside of covering court costs. The 2019 decision was appealed last October.
Dan Siegel, who represents the 11 plaintiffs in the case — all of whom were players at the time of the decision to cut the program — said he is “elated” by the decision to revisit the case. He predicts it could have a national impact on Title IX cases.
And that’s why we appreciate the appeal and the closer look at that 2019 dismissal.
Did UND violate Title IX? Was the process handled appropriately? Were the young women legally wronged? This is what matters now, even more than any argument about whether the program should be brought back. It’s important the process is reevaluated, not just for the sake of UND, but for institutions nationwide.
Title IX not only is the law of the land, but should be viewed as a sacred ruling that has revolutionized fairness for women, not just in sports but in all educational fields that receive federal funding.
While we’re not convinced that the women’s hockey program should be reinstated, the reevaluation must happen to ensure the university took the proper steps in that difficult decision back in 2017, and that the women affected were treated fairly and in full accordance with the law.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.