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UI Athletics shares DEI ‘action plan’ incorporated in $4.2M settlement
Republican lawmakers express frustration with settlement, DEI piece
- UI Athletics published its diversity, equity, and inclusion five-year action plan this week.
- The plan outlines ways it will foster “the advancement and respect for diversity, equity, and inclusion for all student-athletes, coaches, and staff.”
- Under terms of a $4.2 million lawsuit settlement, UI will hire a Texas professor to help implement the plan.
- The settlement's DEI stipulation comes as state lawmakers propose a bill to curb DEI-related spending and training at Iowa’s public universities.
- A number of state officials have urged UI to make changes in its athletics leadership, particularly with Athletic Director Gary Barta.
- Barta's current contract runs through June 2024.
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Athletics’ 2023 “diversity, equity, and inclusion five-year action plan” — which the department will get help operationalizing under terms of a new discrimination lawsuit settlement — lists 20-plus “actionable activities,” like designing “spotlight recognition awards for DE&I teams and departments who exemplify our values.”
“Make this a competition on which teams create the greatest cultural change,” the action plan urges.
Another action step in the plan would “create teachable scenarios that focus on how to build respectful relationships that promote equitable, inclusive environments that addresses systemic issues proactively with accountability that attach real consequences for violations.”
The plan — which UI Athletics finalized in January and posted online this week — identifies fives core strategies aimed at fulfilling its commitment to foster “the advancement and respect for diversity, equity, and inclusion for all student-athletes, coaches, and staff.”
Those strategies are education; evaluation and assessment; infrastructure and sustainability; collaboration; and infusion of leadership.
Actionable activities under its leadership umbrella include:
- Creating educational programs “that uncover the insecurities we all have and provide solutions that impact our first impulse reactions”;
- Honoring and recognizing national events “that impact the lives of underrepresented students and staff and create conversation spaces for our students and staff”;
- Establishing consistent DEI messaging and communication;
- Launching a “diversity conversation series highlighting history and authentic stories of diversity within athletics”;
- Creating “greater accessibility to leadership discussion and psychological safety where staff can bring their whole self to the table and not have to self-monitor to feel appreciated for who they are despite the insecurities”;
- And promoting and communicating key DEI messages “that can be shared externally and reinforced in public venues inside and outside of the university departments.”
The plan also has UI Athletics creating more conversation spaces about “actual cases to use as teachable moments for educating staff and students on inequities and cultural values”; establishing DEI accountability in performance evaluations; using internal auditing processes to check for systemic inequalities in things like hiring and promotions; and enhancing local and national relationships to foster an “improved presence in targeted diverse communities with our student athletes and coaches.”
The five-page action plan is dated Jan. 13 — a month before 12 former Hawkeye football players signed a $4.2 million settlement terminating the discrimination lawsuit they filed in November 2020 against UI, the Board of Regents, and coaches like Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, former strength coach Chris Doyle, and UI Athletic Director Gary Barta.
The lawsuit is among several alleging discrimination filed against UI Athletics in the last decade — including one from female athletes settled in 2021 and another from former coaches Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum that resulted in a $6.5 million payout.
The years of allegations have prompted numerous internal and external investigations into the department’s climate — resulting in reports, some of which haven’t been made public.
And this week’s $4.2 million settlement — $2 million of which was paid for by taxpayers out of the state’s general fund — prompted State Auditor Rob Sand to urge UI President Barbara Wilson to terminate Barta without severance or further compensation.
“There's a certain point at which an institution needs to communicate to the public that it isn't just a group of insiders protecting each other,” Sand said. “And that's what I think this settlement feels like, unless Barta’s gone.”
Although the State Appeal Board approved the settlement without working in a clause mandating Barta’s removal, State Treasurer Roby Smith also urged a change.
“I would encourage the university to reexamine the relationship with not only Gary Barta, but Brian Ferentz and others named in recent lawsuits,” Smith said.
UI President Wilson hasn’t responded to requests for comment on the situation and state officials’ demands.
Barta, 59, made $1.2 million in the 2022 budget year — the most since he started as UI athletic director in 2006. Since his hire, Barta’s contract has been extended or amended six times and currently has him making an annual base wage of $650,000 through June 30, 2024.
The deferred compensation package outlined in his most recent contract extension signed in August 2019 would pay out $1.4 million — given $150,000 he forfeited from the plan during COVID, when some coaches took pay cuts and UI Athletics cut three male sports: gymnastics, swimming and diving, and tennis.
Although COVID losses left the department with a $42.9 million deficit in the 2021 budget year, its income since has rebounded — soaring past expectations to its highest-ever $126.8 million in 2022. The department expects to generate even more this year, $129 million, thanks in large part to $57 million from the Big Ten Conference.
Frustration among lawmakers
State Auditor Sand, the sole State Appeal Board member who voted against the recent settlement, cited the department’s conference revenue in his denial.
“For the first time they want part paid from the taxpayers’ general fund, even though they now collect tens of millions annually thru the Big Ten TV deal,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Non-monetary terms of the settlement have the university — among other things — hiring Leonard Moore, an American history professor at the University of Texas at Austin and former vice president of diversity and community engagement, to help operationalize UI Athletics’ DEI plan.
In Texas, Moore teaches classes on “The Black Power Movement” and “Race in the Age of Trump,” according to the UT website.
The DEI stipulation in the legal settlement comes as Republican lawmakers pursue a bill to curb DEI-related spending, programming, and training across Iowa’s public universities.
“For too long, the DEI bureaucracies at our institutions of higher education have been used to impose ideological conformity and promote far left political activism … all while spending literally millions in the process,” Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, said last week during a subcommittee discussion on the bill, which survived the funnel. “They push this woke agenda on faculty. They push it on staff. But most importantly, they push on the students.”
Collins — responding to The Gazette’s questions on the settlement — expressed frustration among lawmakers that taxpayers are on the hook for part of the $4.2 million and that DEI is involved. He said legislators were working on the issue.
Republican state lawmakers in the Iowa House on Wednesday unveiled proposed legislation that would require a state university to reimburse the state for a settlement paid out in a case involving an employee of the school’s athletic department.
The proposal has a retroactive start date, which means if passed into law it would apply to the $4.2 million UI settlement.
Legislators said the proposal, House Study Bill 229 will receive its first legislative hearing Thursday morning at the Iowa Capitol.
The UI declined to comment on the bill Wednesday, referring questions to the Board of Regents.
"The bill was just introduced and we are evaluating it,“ Regents Spokesman Josh Lehman said in an email.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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