IOWA CITY — If people out there are concerned about the job status of Iowa’s athletics director, Gary Barta is not one of them.
In the job since 2006, the man tasked with leading Hawkeye athletics had his job performance literally on trial this spring by way of a gender and sexual discrimination lawsuit brought by former administrator Jane Meyer.
Barta met with media for the first time since Iowa, Meyer and former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum settled all pending discrimination litigation for $6.5 million in May. In his nearly 30 minutes of taking questions, Barta didn’t second-guess his decisions, defended the culture in the athletics department and firmly stated he has no worries about his job status.
“I always look at job security as a day-to-day situation in my job,” Barta said. “President (Bruce) Harreld has been behind me 100 percent since he arrived.
“Just about every decision we make and I make gets criticized at some level. Over the years, I have to develop a thick skin. I always go back to the principle of our decisions. If we make decisions based on what we think are strong principles and done for the right reasons, do it with integrity, then I expect criticism — not just in this case, but in everything we do. I sleep well at night knowing I did the best I could with the information I have.”
Barta drew a distinct line between the principles behind his decisions with respect to Meyer and Griesbaum, and the tactics with which they were executed.
In several responses on Tuesday, Barta said he and the athletics department “still believe that principally we were in the right,” while acknowledging, “tactically, could we have done some things differently? I suppose.”
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Barta said the choice to fire Griesbaum on Aug. 4, 2014 and reassign Meyer out of the department on Dec. 5, 2014 “wasn’t made in a vacuum” and he consulted with the state attorney general’s office, the university president’s office, as well as human resources. That, he said, gives him the peace of mind he needs about the situation.
One of the themes of the Meyer trial, from the UI perspective, was the culture change that took place once Meyer was transferred out. Barta and other defense witnesses, including football coach Kirk Ferentz and wrestling coach Tom Brands, testified to her “toxic” effect being removed. On Tuesday, Barta wouldn’t comment on Meyer or her performance specifically, but repeated that line of thinking about culture from the trial — this time in the context of a question about being concerned about the department’s future.
“Our coaches, our student athletes, our administrators; the mood and culture has never been better since I’ve been here, and that tells me a lot about where we’re headed,” Barta said.
Whatever public perception of Iowa’s athletics department exists, Barta isn’t concerned.
He joked about the “conspiracy theories” surrounding the timing of the announcement that Barbara Burke would replace Gene Taylor as Deputy Athletics Director with Taylor’s departure to take the AD job at Kansas State. Assistant Iowa Attorney General George Carroll, who represented UI in the Meyer trial, announced Burke’s hire in opening statements — “24 hours or so” before Barta was ready to announce it — which prompted questions if Iowa was promoting a female in the face of the lawsuits and trial.
Barta called that coincidental and said “she was the right person to hire at that moment when Gene took that job, and I feel great about it. Short term, it created conspiracy theories.”
Whether it was that or public thoughts about Barta’s treatment of women or people of varying sexual orientations, Barta said there would not be a knee-jerk reaction to try to convince people it’s not the case.
“Nothing I can say today can probably change people’s minds,” Barta said. “But if you look at my time — let’s talk about me specifically for a moment — my time over the last 11 years, I think I’ve proven over a long period of time, for those who are around me and watched the leadership, they know who I am and how I do things.
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“We’re going to live off of and behind the time-tested decisions we’ve made. ... We’re not going to launch some kind of campaign. We’re going to continue to earn the trust through what we do every day.”
Barta said Tuesday the funds to pay the $6.5 million settlement came solely from the athletics department’s reserve fund. That now sits “at about $3 million” after it was previously “as high as about $12 million. The events of the last two years have brought that down, but we’ll build it back up,” Barta said.
That number and those plans to refill the reserve funds were two more things Barta said Tuesday he wasn’t worried about, given an “all-time record in fundraising” with more than $48 million worth of “fundraising activity.”
Barta’s repeated declarations of moving forward while defending his and his department’s actions were underscored finally by a discussion of emails. During the trial, Barta testified he doesn’t communicate with his coaches via email. It was a fact plaintiff attorneys Tom Newkirk and Jill Gregory used to highlight as an absence of proof for Barta’s assertions about Meyer.
He joked about not changing his practices in that regard because media would then have access to his emails with coaches via public records laws, but Barta more seriously defended that choice because he said he wants to communicate important information “one-on-one.”
His answer about the emails was a microcosm of his reaction to the case at large.
“I’m to the point in my career where I’ve been doing it for 30 years (and) I do it because I love it,” Barta said. “I’m not going to start making decisions based on what’s legally going to protect me the most. I’m going to do what I’ve tried to do for 30 years. I’m going to try to do what I think is right.”
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