U. of Iowa leader issues apology in athletics case

November 16, 2012 - 3:35 PM
Athletics Official Investigation

This undated photo provided by The University of Iowa shows former Iowa athletics department counselor Peter Gray. A university oversight official on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, defended the school's decision to hire Gray to oversee its advising and counseling program for athletes in 2002 after he had left the university in 1995. Gray resigned last week after an internal report obtained by the Iowa City Press-Citizen concluded that he had violated the university's sexual harassment policy by improperly touching students and athletes throughout his tenure, dating back to his first earlier employment from 1993 to 1995. (AP Photo/Courtesy University of Iowa)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — University of Iowa President Sally Mason apologized but offered few answers Friday for the school's failure to protect athletes and employees in its handling of a former athletics department official accused of sexual harassment for years.

Mason issued the apology and outlined personnel changes after she completed an inquiry into the case of Peter V. Gray, who resigned last week after working as associate director of athletics student services since 2002.

"Our ultimate role as a university is to protect our students, faculty, and staff," she said. "The University of Iowa owes an apology to everyone affected by this avoidable incident. We cannot afford to allow even an isolated breakdown in our system to compromise that fundamental commitment."

The Iowa City Press-Citizen published an internal report last week that accused Gray, 59, of violating the school's sexual harassment policy through improper touching that included shoulder massages, hugging and rubbing of athletes. The report quoted employees as saying the behavior dated back to Gray's earlier employment at Iowa from 1993 to 1995 and continued despite complaints from colleagues, coaches and at least one athlete. Gray acknowledged some of the touching but denied grabbing a student's genitals or buttocks.

The report also found that Gray had traded football tickets for nude photographs with someone outside the university and had inappropriate photographs on his work computer, including a screen saver of the men's swimming team and two showing individuals engaged in sex acts with stuffed animals or toys. University police are not investigating Gray, who has stayed out of public view since the allegations surfaced and not returned messages for comment.

The case raised questions about why Gray was rehired in 2002, what prompted the university to take action now and whether earlier complaints were effectively addressed. The way it became public — through a leak of the confidential report to the newspaper — also suggests the university tried to keep the episode quiet. Athletics Director Gary Barta earlier claimed that Gray resigned for "personal reasons."

Mason's statement did not address those questions. Instead, she said she was confident the school has "developed remedies addressing the breakdowns that occurred." Mason also praised Barta for helping her understand the facts surrounding the resignation of Gray, who's been praised by some former athletes for helping them keep up with academics.

The changes outlined by Mason suggest she found flaws in the way Gray was vetted and how he and others were supervised. Records released Wednesday revealed that Gray had been fired from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., in 1999 for poor performance.

Gray oversaw Iowa's advising and counseling program for student-athletes, whom he had daily contact with at the Gerdin Athletic Learning Center.

Mason, who declined an interview request, said these next steps will occur:

— The university will review all hiring processes, starting with the athletics department, to ensure best practices in vetting applicants.

— The university will require supervisors of student-athlete advising services to report to the provost — the school's top academic official — and Barta for two years. Gray's position had reported to Fred Mims, associate director of athletics for student services and compliance. The internal report said a Gray supervisor, who wasn't named, had repeatedly admonished him for his inappropriate behavior in the workplace and local bars. Mims didn't return messages Friday.

— An internal audit will examine the operations of student-athlete advising services and compliance.

— Athletic counselors and advisers will be required to undergo additional sexual harassment training, beyond what is already mandated.

The statement said the university wouldn't discuss disciplinary actions taken against employees involved.

The case has received widespread attention, partly because it comes in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal at Penn State University. Mason chairs the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, and she criticized Penn State's failures in the case and announced the conference's sanctions against the school in July.

Iowa professor N. William Hines, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Athletics, an oversight panel, praised Mason for making a definitive statement in response to growing public pressure.

"This hopefully will put some of the uncertainty to rest and we can go back to everyday life here," he said.

Hines said Mason's decision to choose the university's internal auditors to further investigate made sense, given their reputation for professionalism and fairness. But he said he was unsure whether the public would ever receive a full accounting of what happened with Gray's employment.

Iowa Board of Regents President Craig Lang expressed confidence in Mason's response.

"Her deep concern for the safety of students, faculty and staff, and her solid determination to identify answers and address the specific findings of this case will lead the University to the necessary conclusions," he said.