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Attorney raises concerns with UI Athletics Title IX monitor report
‘We have concerns that are both procedural and substantive’
IOWA CITY — Just days after University of Iowa Athletics posted online its first court-ordered Title IX monitor report — required as part of a settlement with female student-athletes who sued the university for violating the federal gender equity law — their attorney wrote the monitor to raise concerns with his assessment.
“We have concerns that are both procedural and substantive regarding the initial report,” Iowa City-based attorney James Larew wrote Oct. 11 to Gabriel Feldman — a sports law professor, co-founder of the Tulane Sports Law Program and associate provost for Tulane University’s NCAA compliance.
Larew — according to the letter obtained by The Gazette through an open records request to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office — took issue with Feldman’s lack of communication with and involvement of his clients in assessing UI compliance; his minimal time spent on campus; his vague description of data and documents reviewed; and his approximate findings of UI Athletics compliance.
“First, as a matter of process, we were surprised to first learn of your initial report by reading about it in the newspaper,” Larew wrote to Feldman. “Neither we nor our clients were ever contacted during your initial review process nor in what was described in media reports as a one-day visit to the University of Iowa campus in August.”
Feldman’s Aug. 26 visit came just weeks before UI Athletics on Oct. 1 was required to post on its website the first of three annual Title IX compliance reports authored by its court-ordered monitor. That first and only visit came nearly a year after both sides signed the settlement in September 2021 appointing Feldman as the monitor.
“Second, as a matter of substance,” Larew wrote to Feldman, “the initial report sets forth conclusions, but does not describe the data reviewed or relied upon, or the modes of analysis used.”
Larew nominated Feldman to serve as UI Title IX monitor for the next three years as part of the settlement that came from a September 2020 lawsuit in which UI female student athletes accused the campus of violating Title IX’s equal participation, benefits and scholarship requirements.
The lawsuit came after UI Athletics officials in August 2020 announced the pandemic was forcing them to cut women’s swimming and diving — along with three male sports. The students argued the UI has been non-compliant with athletic equity mandates for at least 18 years.
After a federal judge issued an order indicating the students’ case was compelling, the UI agreed to a settlement that — among other things — required UI Athletics to reinstate women’s swimming and diving for at least seven years; create a new women’s wrestling program; cap its women’s rowing roster; and appoint a monitor.
On Jan. 31, 2022 — more than four months after signing the settlement — UI officials told The Gazette it had no emails or other written communication with Feldman to date but had held an initial Oct. 11, 2021, online call that wasn’t recorded.
“We look forward to receiving his report on Oct. 1, 2022, which will encompass the entire academic year, 2021-22,” UI transparency officials told The Gazette in January. “Moving forward from the initial Zoom conference call with Mr. Feldman on Oct. 11, 2021, UI officials have proceeded with deliberate and measured steps in collecting the necessary information to assist Mr. Feldman in completing his report to meet the established deadline.”
The university didn’t sign a contract with Feldman until the end of June — just three months before his report was to be posted publicly. It committed to paying him $425 an hour, plus up to $15,000 in travel, meal and lodging expenses. The university has yet to receive an invoice or make any payment to Feldman, UI Athletics Chief Financial Officer Greg Davies said.
Feldman hasn’t responded to attempts to reach him for comment.
Feldman’s 11-page report found UI “in the aggregate” appears to be in compliance with required equitable treatment provisions. Where he did find discrepancies, like in equitable facilities and athletic opportunities, he found the UI is on track to comply.
“Currently, the women’s gymnastics facility — which was shared with the men’s gymnastics team until it was recently eliminated — is not on par with the impressive facilities used by most of the other UI teams,” he wrote, noting plans to build a new women’s gymnastics and spirit squad training center should “remedy any equity issues.”
Regarding participation, Feldman found a 3.4 percent disparity in athletic opportunities — meaning participation among women was shy of the mandate. But, Feldman said, the UI plans to increase the swimming roster and eventually add 30 female wrestlers.
“It thus appears that UI will comply,” Feldman wrote.
In his assessment of UI’s financial aid offerings, which an expert found to be non-compliant with Title IX, Feldman produced a two-paragraph assessment finding “nearly exact proportionality.” His explanation of equitable findings regarding equipment and supplies, games and practice scheduling, travel allowance, publicity, recruitment, housing provisions and support services all were two to three paragraphs long.
Feldman said during his visit he “toured UI athletics facilities and met with coaches and staff.”
“I reviewed relevant data regarding gender equity at UI, internal handbooks and policies, and other publicly available material, and was given an opportunity to speak with coaches, staff, and athletes,” Feldman wrote.
But Larew said the report should have given details.
“It was not clear to us, for instance: how many coaches or athletes provided feedback; what administrators or trainers might have been involved; whether any survey was conducted of coaches or athletes of any teams; or what other documents were reviewed in arriving at your initial conclusions,” Larew wrote.
After sending that letter, Larew said he spoke by phone with Feldman and had a cordial discussion about the next two reports.
“We want the University of Iowa to succeed,” Larew said in an interview. “We want the monitoring situation to be a useful tool, so that compliance can be achieved fully.”
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