Two years after hiring a consultant to conduct a gender equity review of its athletics department, the University of Minnesota has released a summary that only hints at her findings — but insists that any potential problems are being addressed.
On Friday, the university released an eight-page Interim Report and Equity Plan for Gopher Athletics, which cites a “comprehensive review” conducted in 2014 by Janet Judge, a Boston attorney and expert in gender equity issues.
The U, however, has never publicly disclosed Judge’s findings, and records show that it took steps to ensure that her work was kept confidential, classifying it as attorney-client privilege.
Friday’s report, which was sent to the Board of Regents by U President Eric Kaler, gives the first public glimpse of some of Judge’s concerns. It says that she “raised potential issues” about cramped practice facilities and scheduling conflicts for practice space, and “addressed” issues of financial aid, participation rates and other “benefits/treatment” for male and female athletes.
It also cited complaints from coaches and others about the lack of shower facilities for women in the soccer stadium, and about track facilities being displaced by a new Athletes Village, which will mainly benefit football and basketball players.
Since last year, the U.S. Department of Education has been conducting an investigation into an anonymous complaint of gender discrimination in the U’s athletics department. That investigation is ongoing.
But the university’s internal report emphasizes that the athletics department has taken multiple steps to ensure that it’s in compliance with the federal law known as Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at colleges and universities.
“Gopher Athletics is proud of its program, including its ongoing efforts to ensure equity for all student athletes,” concludes the report, which was prepared by the athletics department, university lawyers and a Title IX coordinator. At the same time, the report noted, “It is always looking for ways to improve its program.”
Evan Lapiska, a university spokesman, defended the university’s decision not to disclose details of Judge’s review or to say whether she found evidence of Title IX violations.
“She wasn’t brought in to do an audit,” he said. “She was brought in to look at the department and make recommendations.”
The report noted that the university neither asked for nor received a written report from Judge, who is president of Sports Law Associates, a law firm based in Maine specializing in intercollegiate sports. Instead, under her $20,000 contract, she was invited to give an oral presentation of her findings to a select group of U officials in February.
Minneapolis attorney Priscilla Lord, an alumna and donor, said Friday’s report confirmed some of her suspicions about disparities between men’s and women’s athletics at the U. But she said she would like to see more specifics. “It was a very general, general report,” she said. She also expressed concern about the secrecy surrounding Judge’s review. “I think the only reason you do that is because you’ve got something to hide,” she said.
Former women’s volleyball coach Stephanie Schleuder said in an e-mail Friday that even though the report is intended to be a broad overview, it leaves significant equity issues unaddressed and is “almost worthless without some specifics.”
Even before Judge was hired, U officials were expressing concerns about keeping the findings confidential, according to two other Title IX experts who were candidates for the job.
Judy Sweet, a former president of the NCAA who is now a Title IX consultant, said that U officials seemed preoccupied with confidentiality during her 2013 interview.
“What I do recall most distinctly was the committee probing on how I might keep my review and recommendations from being a public document,” she told the Star Tribune. “That was when I asked about access to the president. I felt very strongly that he needed a written report from me or, at a minimum, a verbal report.” After raising that question, she said, she didn’t hear from the U again.
Donna Lopiano, president of Sports Management Resources in Connecticut, said that confidentiality was raised in her interview as well. She said she was told that the U wanted to hire an attorney so that it could keep the consultant’s work confidential under attorney-client privilege.
U officials have denied that they hired Judge, the only lawyer among the three candidates, in order to keep her findings secret, noting that she is a nationally recognized expert in the field.
Lapiska said that Friday’s report was intended as a “general update” on the university’s progress.