Thursday, January 25, 2018

University of Iowa enters into voluntary resolution

The University of Iowa has entered into a voluntary resolution with the Office of Civil Rights 20 months after the investigation by the agency into a complaint of disparate treatment of male and female student athletes.

The complaint was filed by members of the field hockey team and part of a larger confluence of events which involved the firing of long-time field hockey coach Tracy Griesbaum and the removal of her partner, senior athletics administrator, Jane Meyer from her position immediately after Meyer complained about gender equity in the department.

The University has framed the resolution as a victory noting that the investigation revealed no violations, but only disparities in treatment in the areas of  equipment, recruiting, and locker rooms. The University will have to submit reports in April and June which state how they will address these disparities. They must also, by the end of this month, explain how they were in compliance in 2016-17. I am interested in seeing that report.

Two thoughts on this "resolution." First, claims of victory based on disparities versus violations borders on offensive in part because of the culture of the department (more on that below), the history of inequitable treatment, and because disparities are violations. The law mandates equitable treatment across genders. To have a disparity means there is not equitable treatment.

Additionally, these are disparities that have been around for years and years. In the early aughts I served, as a graduate student, on the Gender Equity Subcommittee charged with assessing equity as part of the NCAA's (now defunct) accreditation process of DI schools. We heard about the same things: lack of recruiting dollars for coaches of women's teams, inequitable facilities and equipment and access to them; and more. There is no amount of elapsed time that results in a disparity becoming a violation (in part because of the semantics I mentioned above). But certainly for Iowa to tout lack of violations when these disparities have been persistent and ongoing, seems inappropriate--at best, and borders on offensive.

Two, I fear that the fact of OCR finding no violations means Iowa is (nearly) good will do little to address the atmosphere in the department in which women--as athletes and administrators--continue to face discrimination. This atmosphere has been maintained--if not created--by athletics director Gary Barta who seems to be doing little to address the situation beyond what he is required to do.

I note here that the first complaint filed by the field hockey team members was about how complaints against female and male coaches were handled differently by the department was never investigated. There are several examples* of members of the football coaching staff endangering the health and safety of their athletes with no repercussions. While the University cannot deny its loss in the Jane Meyer case, which resulted in a jury award, the settlement with Griesbaum means they admit no guilt. This is all to say that there are issues in Iowa athletics that extend beyond locker rooms, equipment, and recruiting. I imagine many at and associated with the university are disappointed in this "resolution."

Also a note about the first article linked above which was the only I found about the resolution agreement: it incorrectly states that compliance with Title IX is measured by the three-prong test. As we have written repeatedly, the test measures one aspect of  compliance: participation. I would argue that these misunderstandings that compliance is only about numbers of athletes is part of the reason why people do not see inequitable treatment (i.e., quality of experience) as a violation/non-compliance.

* Including the choice to keep an injured quarterback in during a bowl game Iowa was losing badly; an example cited by a former ESPN analyst in a story about why he left his job when he felt complicit in the violence done to football players.