IOWA — University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson says that the school’s athletics department will repay the state’s general fund after $2 million in taxpayer funding was used to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit this week. On Monday a state panel voted 2-1 to approve a $4.175 million settlement with a dozen Black former football players who say they faced systemic racism in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s program.
$2.175 million of the settlement was paid by the UI Athletics Department, with the rest covered by the state’s general fund. State Auditor Rob Sand said he would only approve the settlement if UI Athletic Director Gary Barta was fired. The panel’s two Republican members, State Treasurer Roby Smith and Kraig Paulsen, approved the settlement.
However, Wilson now says the Athletic Department will cover the full cost of the lawsuit. She released a statement on Thursday morning reading:
“I appreciate the work and due diligence of the Iowa Attorney General and State Appeal Board. After listening to the concerns of Iowans, and in consultation with Board of Regents leadership, I have determined that the University of Iowa Department of Athletics will reimburse the state general fund for the $2 million due to the recent settlement. I am deeply committed to our students’ success and well-being on and off the field of play.”Barbara Wilson, University of Iowa President
Sand responded to Wilson’s change of plans Thursday. “I am delighted that President Wilson listened to the concerns that led to my vote against the settlement. I’m delighted that she listened to the outcry from taxpayers who wanted real accountability. And I would like a copy of that check mailed to this room,” Sand said.
The initial decision to make taxpayers’ responsible for part of the settlement’s cost brought criticism not only from Sand, but also from state lawmakers who began work on legislation that could have required the Hawkeye athletics to cover the settlement’s entire cost.
State Treasurer Roby Smith — a Republican who approved the terms of the settlement Monday –released a statement Thursday following Wilson’s announcement.
“Prior to Monday’s State Appeals Board meeting, I met with the Attorney General’s Office to learn more about the terms of the settlement reached in the case involving the University of Iowa Football Program. During that meeting, I was informed that the University of Iowa and Board of Regents refused to pay the full amount of the settlement, but was told voting “no” on the proposed settlement would force the case to trial and open Iowa taxpayers up to millions more in potential future liabilities.
Today, I applaud President Wilson and the Board of Regents for reversing course and requiring the University of Iowa Athletic Department to cover costs related to the settlement, but I would also renew my call for President Wilson to re-examine the University’s relationship with Mr. Barta.
Additionally, to protect Iowa taxpayers from ever being in this situation again, I am calling on the Iowa Legislature to continue moving House Study Bill 229 through the legislative process and to consider expanding the scope of the bill to include all claims involving the Regents Institutions. I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue this important public policy discussion.”
Ferentz released a lengthy statement on Monday after the settlement was announced that urged the state to continue fighting in court. “The parties originally named disagree with the decision to settle, fully believing that the case would have been dismissed with prejudice before trial,” Ferentz said in part.
Among the claims from the former players in the lawsuit were that they heard racial slurs, and were made to give up their culture — including hairstyles and fashion — to fit into Ferentz’s system. They say they faced retaliation when they spoke up against the alleged injustices as well.