University of Iowa President, Sally Mason, says she believes the actions of Dr. Peter Gray, outlined in an internal University of Iowa investigation, represent an isolated set of circumstances. Mason says the University of Iowa is taking strong and swift action to deal with reporting of any such future violations of University of Iowa policies.
Dr. Gray, an athletics department academic advisor since 2002, resigned November 5, amid numerous allegations of sexual harassment incidents and violations of University if Iowa policies on sexual harassment.
During an interview Monday with KWWL, President Mason said she first learned of the allegations in early October. Mason told KWWL, "I do believe it's an isolated incident, but, I would say, with 23-thousand employees and 31-thousand students, can I guarantee that this won't happen again, or that it isn't happening somewhere else? No. Absolutely not."
The story broke when someone leaked the October 24 internal investigation to the Iowa City Press Citizen. The 6-page report focused on Dr. Gray and the findings of a formal complaint of sexual harassment and violations of other university and department policies.
The report said, ‘The evidence produced during the investigation provides a reasonable basis to conclude that the university's Police on Sexual Harassment has been violated." The report cited numerous incidents involving Dr. Gray's alleged inappropriate behavior during interactions with student-athletes. Dr. Gray, says the report, admitted he made sexually explicit comments, including an offer of oral sex.
While Dr. Gray denies that he gave away football tickets, in exchange for sexual favors, the university's report says, "The evidence indicates that the ticket and/or money were exchanged as an incentive, gratitude or appreciation for the sexual photographs."
The report says Dr. Gray received three nude photographs of an individual to whom he provided game tickets on three separate occasions during the 2011 football season. The report also alleges that Dr. Gray touched a student's genitals and had created an uncomfortable work environment by massaging shoulders, rubbing backs and hugging student-athletes.
Last Friday, President Mason announced new policies for dealing with similar kinds of incidents, adding. "We have to be more vigilant. Again, what was of most concern to me is observations that this was going on, and not enough people stepping forward to make a formal complaint. Why did it take a formal complaint? Why did we have to wait so long for a formal complaint to come forward to take these steps and discover that there was, very much, uncomfortable feelings in the workplace as a result of an individual's actions."
When asked if Dr. Gray was given the option of resigning, rather than be fired, President Mason said she could not comment, citing that as a personnel matter. She also would not say if other employees might be fired as a result of the investigation.
Mason says she is confident the university has developed new remedies for addressing what she earlier called an avoidable incident involving Peter Gray. She says, "What we're doing, to follow up now, is an audit of our hiring practices, as well as an audit of the operations and procedures that are in place in the student compliance and academic services functions of athletics. And I think that's important to follow up, to make certain that the lapses that I believe were there, in terms of reporting sexual harassment, don't occur again. And, that they were isolated incidents, and that we correct it and move on from there."
When asked is she was concerned about the possibility of criminal charges being filed in the future or civil lawsuits, Mason said, "We don't have an indication, at this point, of criminal activity or NCAA infractions, but, certainly, the audits will help us understand better, what happened, and, perhaps, why it happened, and go from there. It's too soon to know."
Mason was Chair of the Big 10 Conference Council of Presidents and Chancellors, which handed down sanctions against Penn State University, in connections with the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal.
She says, "It's quite different than Penn State. It certainly involved a whole set of different types of actions and activities, but, that doesn't diminish the seriousness of the allegations. Nor, does it, in any way, abrogate our need to take action. We have policies in place that say, We will not tolerate a hostile environment. We will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind. And, we need to take action when we see or hear or learn of these things. That's one of the most important things that, all of us. I think, have learned in the wake of incidents from Penn State's to our own."
Some of the public criticism of the case has focused on Dr. Gray's previous employment at the University of Iowa in the 1990's, his firing from a South Carolina university and his re-hiring by the University of Iowa in 2002.
The internal report says, "Several individuals stated that the touching behavior took place during Dr. Gray's first employment with the University and continued from 2002 to the present. Several individuals reported discomfort working with Dr. Gray, because of his behavior and interaction with student-athletes."
President Mason says she understands the concern. "I absolutely agree with the public. That's one of the reasons we're looking at this. I mandated sexual harassment training for of our employees several years ago. And, to the credit of our people at our institution, we've had very high compliance rates on that, above 96 percent. But, but that's obviously, not good enough. And, in, at least, this particular case, I'm concerned, that, even with the training, the proper procedure does not appear to have been followed. And, I need to know more about that. That's one of the things we are going to know more about."
When asked how her new policies might have addressed the report that Dr. Gray had an inappropriate photograph on his work computer, Mason said, "A call to our sexual misconduct coordinator on campus should have happened. That should have happened and it didn't. That's the lapse I'm concerned about. That's what we're going to work hard to make sure that we put corrective measures in place so it's doesn't continue to happened."
President Mason says she took an immediate interest in the case when she first heard about it. "In this particular case, because of the nature of the incident, where it occurred, obviously, in athletics. We've had incidents before, in athletics, that have become high-profile. A similar incident, perhaps, in another department, might not be nearly as high profile as this. So, I was interested from the outset. When I learned in early October that there had been a complaint filed against an employee over in athletics, I said, Well, let's make sure we do a thorough investigation. Whatever happens, and, we'll go from there."
While the investigation itself is over, President Mason said the next part of the matter will be the hiring and compliance audits, and an increase in oversight to create the kinds of checks and balances the University needs going forward to prevent future incidents from not being reported as soon as they occur.
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