The people of Iowa have gotten a look at the University of Iowa’s priorities in recent weeks.
I doubt this was the message administrators in Iowa City intended to send, but I don’t know how else to interpret the juxtaposition two recent news stories created.
The first came Aug. 7 when university president Bruce Harreld signed a three-year contract extension with athletic director Gary Barta. The new agreement increases Barta’s guaranteed compensation to $1 million per year.
In contrast, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is responsible for all of state government’s revenue collection and for government services ranging from higher education and highways to health care coverage and state parks, is paid an annual salary of $130,000.
The Hawkeye athletic teams spend more each year on adhesive tape than Reynolds receives in compensation. Indeed, it would take the state’s chief executive 7 1/2 years to receive as much as Barta will be paid in just one year.
The second sign of the university’s misguided priorities came Aug. 8 when the Cedar Rapids Gazette shined a spotlight on the university’s controversial practice of making staff nurses at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics wait weeks to receive overtime pay.
The Gazette reported that nurses frequently receive early morning text messages from supervisors asking if they would volunteer to work an extra shift that day due to a high number of patients or because of vacancies on the nursing staff.
Until 2017, when the Iowa Legislature gutted collective bargaining laws for government employees, nurses employed by the university received overtime compensation on their next paycheck.
Now, the university can dictate how overtime is paid, and those nurses have to be patient to receive their compensation for the extra shifts they worked.
The Gazette received copies of the pay schedules, revealing that nurses who worked extra shifts between June 3 and July 14, for example, will not receive their time-and-a-half pay until Sept. 1.
Nurses are in short supply across the United States, and the University of Iowa is competing with hospitals in places like Chicago, St. Louis and the Twin Cities for registered nurses.
So, why is the university making its nurses wait weeks to be paid? The university has been coping with budget concerns, and because the Legislature said government employers can dictate pay schedules, rather than negotiating those details with employee unions.
Back to Gary Barta. Why is he getting another double-digit increase in his compensation, especially in the wake of a series of legal and public relations problems within the athletics department — many of his own inept making — that have brought national embarrassment to the university?
It’s because the Iowa athletics department is awash in money flowing from the Big Ten television network. Iowa’s share of TV profits is about $54 million annually out of a total Hawkeye athletics department budget of about $125 million.
Unlike Iowa State University, where the Cyclones’ football team and men’s basketball team bring in more money than budgeted, revenues for the Hawkeye football and men’s basketball teams were below expectations in 2019.
Luckily for Barta, the Big Ten Network provided him a $54 million Band-Aid to cover those problems. This isn’t the only time Band-Aids were needed during Barta’s 13 years as the leader of the Hawkeye athletics program.
The first-aid kit was needed when the parents of a female athlete complained about the lack of action by Barta and other university officials after their daughter went to officials with allegations she was sexually assaulted by two members of the football team. First aid was needed when Barta’s handling of the hiring of an assistant track coach led to a $200,000 gender-discrimination settlement. And it was needed when his abrupt firing of the women’s field hockey coach and Barta’s reassignment of her partner, a top administrator on his staff, resulted in a $6.5 million verdict and settlement against the athletics department.
Then there was the time Barta took a “there’s nothing to see here” approach with the public when an academic counselor in the department resigned in secrecy, only to have it come out later that the counselor had inappropriate photos on his work computer, had improperly touched athletes, and had traded Hawkeye sports tickets for nude photos. It’s important to know that this counselor was hired after being forced out in scandal at another university.
So, there you have it. Now you know what shows up on the university’s list of concerns and what doesn’t register with them.
You have one administrator with a checkered record as a department head who now will receive an annual salary of $1 million, and you have 2,000 staff nurses employed by the university who are forced to wait weeks to get paid for working overtime to care for about 800 patients.
Photo by Julie Fleming