University of Iowa president calls performance review process 'a little sloppy'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The University of Iowa is “a little sloppy about (its) performance evaluations,” president Bruce Harreld said Thursday while making his first public comments about the settlement of two discrimination lawsuits last spring.

“We’re not direct enough and we don’t document enough,” Harreld said at the monthly meeting of the Presidential Committee on Athletics, which includes faculty and sports staff.

“There’s a culture of disconnect here, which is we’re living in the public world where actually all tend to say, ‘I’ve got to be careful about what I put on paper,’ even though many of these employee-related issues (aren’t subject to public-records requests). But our behavior is not to document.”

Former IBM executive Bruce Harreld was hired as University of Iowa president in an open search, despite faculty opposition

Employee reviews were at issue in a lawsuit brought by former senior associate athletic director Jane Meyer after she was removed from her duties in 2014 and eventually fired. Her attorneys repeatedly pointed to positive comments that athletic director Gary Barta made about Meyer in her annual evaluations.

A Polk County jury in early May found the university guilty of discrimination against Meyer based on gender and sexual orientation. Iowa then settled a second lawsuit brought by Meyer’s partner, former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, on similar grounds.

The university agreed to pay out $6.5 million to Meyer, Griesbaum and their lawyers while not admitting any guilt. That money will come from the athletic department.

“It became quite apparent to me that it wasn’t just the athletic department,” Harreld said. “There were 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 involved in it.”

Harreld decided to hire a consulting firm to take a closer look at employment practices university-wide, but starting with athletics.

“How we hire. How we compensate. The feedback and termination process,” Harreld said of the scope of the investigation, which is ongoing.

“I think this is a wonderful time just to pause and make sure there is no discriminatory practices or policies.”

Barta said after the meeting that he didn’t feel singled out by Harreld’s comments. He wouldn’t comment on whether he felt he had been sloppy in documenting his interactions with Meyer.

“I’m not going to go backward in time,” Barta said. “I’m just going to say we’re looking forward to the (human resources) review. It doesn’t concern me. … If it’s a way to make us better, that’s great.”