North Dakota Professor says geography bee violates Title IX Claims National Geographic Society retaliated against him for objecting

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- A longtime judge for the state's National Geographic Bee claims he was punished for complaining that the annual contest was unfair to girls, and he's taking his case to federal court for the second time in three years.

Minot State University professor emeritus Eric Clausen is suing the National Geographic Society and five other groups. He says he believes the bee violates federal laws on gender equity because a large majority of the state winners are boys.

Clausen claims the NGS retaliated against him by warning him not to interfere and refusing to fund a North Dakota geography program.

A NGS spokeswoman said Clausen's claims of retaliation were part of the first lawsuit, which was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland. The decision was upheld on appeal.

"National Geographic, through its counsel, denied Clausen's allegations in his prior lawsuit," said MJ Jacobsen, NGS spokeswoman. "National Geographic will respond through counsel in court to Clausen's most recent lawsuit and allegations."

Clausen said in court documents he first noticed the gender discrepancy when he "witnessed the disappointment of girl contestants" in the 2004 state competition. Only two national winners in the 19-year history of the bee have been boys.

"NGS knows and has known since the Bee competitions began that Bee competitions do not provide girls with an equal opportunity to participate in the higher-level competitions," the lawsuit states.

Jacobsen said NGS has long acknowledged that boys do better on the bee than girls and has assisted in efforts to find out why. She pointed out an NGS-sponsored study in 1996 on gender and the bee conducted by two Penn State researchers, Lynn Liben and Roger Downs.

The first study concluded that there is a slight difference between what boys and girls know about geography.

The report is expected to be updated in the next year. Liben, a developmental psychologist, said there are still unanswered questions but doesn't believe it's an issue of fairness or opportunity.

"From what I can tell at this point, the bottom line answer is that the same kinds of experiences, skills, interests and so on that lead boys to do well on the bee, also lead girls to do well on the bee," Liben said. "But boys have had more of those experiences."

Liben said she's hoping further research will "cast more light" on the issue.

"The National Geographic Society, clearly, continues to be very interested in trying to make sure that as many children as possible enter and succeed and have the experiences in the bee," she said.

Two out of the 54 state winners in 2009 were girls. Only one girl advanced in 2010, the lawsuit states.

Beverly Sandness, director of the North Dakota bee, was asked if she had a theory on why boys have dominated the competition.

"No," she said. "Everybody has their own, I suppose, slant on that. I've been in education since 1959 and some things are just hard to explain."

Clausen's first lawsuit was filed in October 2008 against NGS and three other geography groups. Clausen's second complaint adds Minot State and the Minot State University Development Foundation to the list of defendants.

Clausen, who holds a doctorate in geography, was a professor at Minot State from 1968-97 and is now a professor emeritus. He served for 12 years as director of the North Dakota Geographic Alliance, which is funded by the NGS and state legislature to help promote geographic education.

The 57-page lawsuit claims that Clausen has "suffered substantial damages in the form of misdirected contributions, lost compensation and damage to reputation." Clausen said money he and others gave to the development foundation was not used for geography education as promised.

Minot State officials said they are aware of the second lawsuit and referred questions to officials in the state attorney general's office, who said they would have no comment until their response is filed.

Published: Tue, Feb 1, 2011