University of Iowa President Harreld called performance evaluations 'sloppy'

Harreld addressed sexual discrimination lawsuit over the summer at PCA meeting Thursday

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IOWA CITY — During Thursday’s meeting for the President’s Committee on Athletics, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld called the university’s performance evaluation process “a little sloppy,” when discussing the gender and sexual discrimination lawsuit settlement awarded to Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum over the summer.

In his first public address on the topic, Harreld discussed the performance review process as well as the “disconnect” happening relating to documentation.

“We were a little sloppy about our performance evaluations,” Harreld said. “We are not direct enough and we do not document enough. I’ve had conversations with attorneys and the Attorney General’s office, saying, ‘How do you advise organizations like ours, which are subject to (Freedom of Information Act requests), to document this?’

“There’s a cultural disconnect here. We’re living in a public world where we all tend to say, ‘I have to be careful what I put on paper,’ even though many of these employee-related issues are protectable by FOIA. But our behavior is not to document.”

Documentation of employee reviews, as well as specific issues administrators had with employees was a central part of the case attorneys for Meyer and Griesbaum made during the trial this summer for Meyer’s lawsuit against the UI for gender and sexual discrimination. Meyer was removed from her position in athletics in 2014, transferred to another part of the university and eventually had her position eliminated.

A Polk County jury found the university guilty of gender and sexual discrimination in May, which was followed by a settlement by the university, Meyer and Griesbaum — who had filed a second lawsuit in the same court. The university agreed to pay $6.5 million in the settlement.

Harreld then ordered a universitywide review of employment practices, beginning with the athletic department. UI’s president said Thursday, though, that it became quickly apparent that whatever issues that led to UI losing the lawsuit were not limited to athletics.

“It became quite apparent to me that it wasn’t just the athletic department,” Harreld said. “There was a lot of other people and parts of the university in that whole process. The General Counsel’s office was in that, the office of the President was in that. This notion it was just the athletic department is a nice story, but it’s a lot more complex.

“I decided we would bring in an outside group to evaluate our employment practices. What does that mean? It means how we hire, how we compensate, the feedback process and the termination process. Not only in the athletic department, but across the academic institution as well as the hospital.”

Harreld continued that he thinks, “this is a wonderful time to pause and make sure there’s no discriminatory practices and policies.”

Barta, seated two chairs away from Harreld as he made the address to the committee, said afterward he looks forward to the process — a thought he’s expressed before when asked about the review. He agreed with Harreld’s assessment that the review will make the university better.

“Everyone on campus, including athletics, is going to go through an HR review,” Barta said. “Whatever we learn from that, if we can get better, we’re going to get better.

“I’m not going to go backward in time. We’re looking forward to the review. It doesn’t concern me. I look forward to it. If it can make us better, that’s great."

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