Iowa takes steps to resolve gender concerns
IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa will take steps to resolve a federal inquiry that found some concerns about whether male athletes received more opportunities than females, the school said Wednesday.
The moves are expected to resolve a lengthy investigation by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education without sanctions or findings of federal violations.
In response to complaints from women’s field hockey players in 2015, the federal agency investigated whether Iowa was in compliance with Title IX, the law that requires public schools to provide equal opportunities to both genders.
Documents released Wednesday show the office, in a report last month, noted potential disparities in seven of 13 areas studied, including uniforms, facilities, academic tutoring, housing and dining and recruiting. But before determining whether the differences amounted to violations, the office and Iowa negotiated a voluntary resolution agreement.
The agreement signed Dec. 29 calls for Iowa “to assess its compliance in the issue areas noted and … to take proactive measures to resolve any deficiencies identified as a result of its assessments,” according to the 32-page report by the federal office.
Iowa said that by next week, it would provide the federal office with data showing that it provided equal athletic opportunities for men and women during the 2016-2017 school year. The university also pledged to provide by April 30 data showing both sexes received “equivalent opportunities” in the areas questioned, as well as the nondiscriminatory justifications for any differences. If the Office for Civil Rights finds that Iowa isn’t providing equal opportunities, the school would have to take steps to offer more participation for female athletes, including implementing a new roster size policy and reviewing whether to add a women’s sport.
The review found that Iowa was spending twice as much on uniforms and equipment for male athletes than females and that, among similar teams, “all but four men’s teams had larger budgets than women’s teams.” The university also spent more on recruiting for men’s teams. Some female athletes were less likely to receive academic tutors when they requested them, had more concerns about their practice facilities and locker rooms, and received less generous dining benefits.
The inquiry began in 2015 after field hockey players filed a complaint asserting that Athletic Director Gary Barta’s decision to fire their coach, Tracey Griesbaum, was based on gender stereotypes. A later complaint alleged that the university favored male athletes in several areas and purposely inflated the women’s rowing roster in order to avoid having to add another women’s sport.
Federal investigators reviewed thousands of documents and visited campus in 2016 to interview coaches, athletes and administrators.
“The university cooperated fully with this review and remains committed to providing equivalent opportunities to men and women in intercollegiate activities,” university spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said.
Iowa last year paid $6.5 million to settle discrimination lawsuits filed by Griesbaum and her partner, former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer. The settlement came after a jury ruled that Iowa discriminated against Meyer on the basis of her sexual orientation and gender and retaliated against her for speaking out. The university has hired a law firm to review the department’s employment policies in response to the verdict.
Des Moines attorneys Tom Newkirk and Jill Zwagerman represented Griesbaum, Meyer and the field hockey players who complained. The lawyers said they were disappointed in the outcome and that it was reached without their clients’ input.
“The University of Iowa has been given a voluntary agreement to fix something they don’t think is broken,” Zwagerman said. “I’m not sure how that results in any kind of change.”