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IOWA CITY — In a letter this week sent to “Hawkeye parents,” University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz reframed his recent decision to “dissolve” an alumni diversity advisory committee created in 2020 following allegations his program fostered a culture of racism and bullying.
In Ferentz’s new message, dated Monday following national media attention over his decision, the coach for the first time publicly articulated his intentions for the group to now include “views of players who competed as Hawkeyes more recently.”
“The new edition of the group which will be made up of players who completed their careers not long ago, joined by select outside voices,” Ferentz wrote. “They will add fresh perspectives to inform my thought process. This is in addition to the conversations I continue to have with the leadership group, which is made up of current members of the team.”
He told parents that “it’s not accurate” he had disbanded or dissolved the group.
“Several members indicated their interest in stepping away from the committee in December, as they felt their work had made a real impact and the time was right to transition to a new group of voices,” he wrote. He said he “made the decision to release the members from their commitment following the bowl game and shared that with them via email.”
However, on Jan. 11, Ferentz told the diversity advisory committee in an email obtained and first reported on Sunday by The Gazette, that “I have come to a decision that this is an appropriate time to dissolve our committee as it stands currently.”
In preparing for the 2022 season, Ferentz at that time said, “I am giving thought to how we restructure the committee/board in a way that best serves our program moving forward.” He did not share details of a new structure with the group at that time or in response to The Gazette’s questions later.
In a statement last week to The Gazette, Ferentz said he decided in November to change the committee. In his letter to parents, he indicated he made the decision after the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl.
Hawkeye Athletics in June 2020 announced that “Iowa football places added emphasis on respect, inclusion” following George Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder in Minneapolis and outcry from former players alleging the Hawkeye football program fostered a culture of racism and bullying. As part of that announcement, Ferentz debuted “an advocate panel.”
“Our goal is to identify how we can make the program more inclusive, welcoming, and safe for all our Black players and all our players in general,” Ferentz said in summer 2020.
Former Hawkeye offensive lineman David Porter was named chair of the 10-member committee, which met weekly and then monthly with Ferentz. Porter told The Gazette meetings had became more sparse during the football season.
But efforts continued until a contentious meeting Oct. 18, 2021, during the Hawkeye’s bye week. Porter told The Gazette some coaches came to the meeting unprepared to answer a question about what they’re doing to improve the program’s culture.
Ferentz later told Porter his staff felt disrespected and attacked at the meeting, Porter said. The plan, according to Porter, was for Ferentz to reconnect with the alumni group after the Citrus Bowl. But Ferentz sent his email about dissolving the group before that could happen, according to Porter.
Ferentz’ email also came days after Porter shared with fellow committee members over a group chat his thoughts that the best way for the Hawkeye football program to move forward is with a new head coach and athletic director.
Ferentz said in his statement to The Gazette last week that Porter had not shared those thoughts with him and were not part of his decision about the future of the committee.
In his message to parents this week, Ferentz called the advisory group’s efforts over its months of work “significant.”
“After a year and a half of fervent discussions, I felt it was a good time to allow those members who have given so much to step away with my gratitude,” he wrote.
The Hawkeye football program is at the center of an ongoing lawsuit that 13 former players filed accusing members of the coaching staff of racially-motivated discrimination and harassment.
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