Federal government again denies University of Iowa request in gender equity inquiry

University wants complaint made public

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IOWA CITY — The federal government has again denied the University of Iowa’s request to make public a gender equity complaint filed last fall against the Athletic Department.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating UI athletics and sent investigators to campus in April.

The probe centers on allegations the UI fails to provide equal athletic opportunities to men and women in 13 areas, including facilities, practice times, travel budgets and equipment.

The UI requested to see the 29-page complaint filed Sept. 2, but the OCR declined in November. The university appealed that decision and was denied again July 25, according to correspondence The Gazette obtained from the UI this week through an open records request.

“Releasing the requested materials at this time could prematurely reveal the focus, scope, direction, and limits of the Department’s investigation,” wrote Kathleen Styles, the federal department’s chief privacy officer.

Also, “because personally identifiable information in the complaint is inextricably intertwined with non-exempt material, segregation and release would produce records with little or no informative content,” Styles said.

Federal investigators in April interviewed UI coaches, student athletes, trainers and equipment managers in Iowa City. Investigators followed up with a request for more information in a June 17 letter to UI President Bruce Harreld.

Information sought included copies of team promotional materials, 2016-17 budgets, number of student athletes, number of participants in intramural and club sports, modes of transport for all team events and the number of recruiting visits by each coach.

The 161 pages of correspondence provided to The Gazette do not indicate when the investigation will be complete.

UI athletics has faced gender equity questions since August 2014, when Director Gary Barta fired Tracey Griesbaum as field hockey coach.

Four UI field hockey players filed a federal complaint in January 2015, alleging the Athletic Department investigates complaints of male and female student athletes differently and holds female coaches to a higher standard.

Although the details of the Sept. 2 complaint have remained largely confidential, Tom Newkirk, a Des Moines lawyer who advised the field hockey players and is representing Griesbaum in a lawsuit, has said the complaint relates to concerns the UI is inflating the women’s rowing roster.

Some gender equity advocates have said college athletic departments are padding participation numbers in some women’s sports to comply with Title IX gender equity laws while avoiding the cost of starting new women’s sports.

If Title IX violations are found, the Office of Civil Rights can require schools take corrective actions that could include providing additional training, revising policies, redistributing scholarships or shifting spending. Schools that don’t act risk losing federal money.

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