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 in early August when university President Bruce Harreld signed a three-year contract extension with Gary Barta, the director of athletics. 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 collections and for government services that range from higher education to highways to trash collection in 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 seven and a half years to receive as much as Barta will be paid in just one year.
The second sign of the university’s priorities came in August when the Cedar Rapids Gazette shined the spotlight on the university’s controversial practice of making staff nurses at University of Iowa Hospitals wait weeks to get paid for the overtime hours they work.
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 — because of higher patient numbers or because of vacancies on the nursing staff.
Until 2017, when the Legislature gutted the state’s collective bargaining laws for government employees, nurses at University Hospitals would have been paid for their overtime 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 work beyond their regular schedules.
The Gazette received copies of the pay schedules, and those showed that nurses who work 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 University Hospitals 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? Because University Hospitals has been coping with budget problems. And because the Legislature said government employers can dictate such terms as 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 in from the Big Ten television network. Iowa’s share of the TV profits is about $54 million per year 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 are bringing in more money than was budgeted, revenues for the Hawkeye football and men’s basketball teams were below expectations in 2019.
But the Big Ten television network provided Barta with a $54 million Band-Aid to cover those problems.
This isn’t the only time Band-Aids have been 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 the officials with allegations that two members of the football team sexually assaulted her. 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 when 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 had been hired after being forced out in scandal at another university.
So there you have it. There you see 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 will now be paid $1 million per year, and you have 2,000 staff nurses at University Hospitals who are being forced to wait weeks to get paid for working overtime to care for about 800 patients.