University of Iowa preparing for civil rights investigators on campus

Federal visit relates to accusations of gender discrimination

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IOWA CITY — A team of four investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will be in Iowa City next week for their first visit related to a complaint accusing the University of Iowa of failing to provide equal athletic opportunities to men and women.

The civil rights investigators are expected to arrive at noon Monday and spend all week interviewing every UI head coach, along with players and administrators; visiting facilities, like practice fields and stadiums; and assessing finite details about athletic operations and resources, including uniforms, housing, and travel accommodations.

The visit is not open to the public, and investigators are scheduled to leave Friday afternoon, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. In response to requests from the Office for Civil Rights, and in preparation for the visit, the university provided thousands of documents — including things like team rosters, policies, and budgets.

UI officials said they don’t expect findings from the civil rights investigation any time soon. Recent investigations at other schools have taken years, including one at Rutgers University that wrapped in 2015 after its launch in 2008.

The U.S. Department of Education oversees Title IX, a 1972 federal law requiring gender equity in educational programs that receive federal funding.

And the university is careful to note that next week’s visit is connected only to the September 2015 complaint alleging discrimination against women in the athletics program and is separate from two other Office for Civil Rights investigations involving the campus. One relates to concerns with the university’s handling of sexual assault, and a second filed by four UI field hockey players in January 2015 accuses the university of violating their federal rights to gender equity by firing former UI field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum in August 2014.

That complaint might have led to the third anonymous complaint about UI gender equity in athletics programs, but the Office for Civil Rights in November rejected a UI request to learn the identity of the anonymous complainant.

“Release of this information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings related to (the office’s) investigation,” according to a letter sent to UI general counsel on Nov. 17.

The office is continuing to investigate the other two complaints filed against the university, although those complaints have not yet prompted visits.

Before next week’s trip to Iowa, investigators sent UI administrators a list of 41 questions — including requests for descriptions of changes made to the athletics program, copies of promotional materials for men’s and women’s sports, and information about financial aid provided to athletes.

In response to one request, UI administrators provided a list of athletics additions over the years and inquiries the university has received to add more sports. The university over the years has fielded requests about adding a synchronized swimming club, creating a men’s soccer team, and developing ice hockey programs for both men and women, according to the documents.

Officials looked into those inquiries, including the costs, but no formal requests were submitted to staff, according to the university. In January 2015, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta received an email about adding men’s and women’s lacrosse programs, and he hinted that’s a possibility.

“While our short term plans don’t include adding any sports, you’ve ID’d the most likely candidate(s) for the future,” Barta wrote back to the emailer. “The growth and excitement in this sport has been interesting to watch.”

The university’s response to investigators’ requests for team budgets shows the football budget has experienced the most growth in dollars since the 2005-2006 school year — at $944,566. The UI wrestling program has seen the least budgetary growth in dollars during that 10-year span — at $29,775.

Percentage-wise, the women’s field hockey program has seen the most growth over the past decade — at 141.5 percent. The wrestling program is again at the bottom of that list, with 14 percent growth in 10 years.

The complaint alleging gender discrimination argues the university fails to provide equal athletic opportunities to men and women in 13 areas — including financial aid, maintenance of equipment and supplies, housing and dining services and facilities, publicity, travel per diems, and the opportunity to receive coaching.

If investigators find violations or issues needing correction, the university “will have an opportunity to provide non-discriminatory justification for the differences and a chance to respond,” said UI spokeswoman Beck.

The federal office has the authority to require the university take correction action. Schools that don’t comply risk losing federal funding.

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