UI to implement supervisor training after two-year employee practices review

The University of Iowa announced that its employee practices review is complete after two years, and it will implement a new supervisor training on campus based on the results.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

Three thousand University of Iowa supervisors will undergo training this year in workplace best practices after a two-year long employment-practices review found that some faculty reported bias in hiring practices and feared retaliation for complaining.

Conducted by Des Moines law firm Fredrikson & Byron P.A., the external review of campus employee practices initially resulted from a 2017 ruling that the UI discriminated against former athletics employee Jane Meyer on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

The final review of a three-part campus evaluation, the report released Thursday found common areas of concern among campus faculty and staff: recruiting and hiring; equitable treatment; and fear of retaliation. This included a reported lack of females, racial or ethnic minorities in the workplace; a lack of equitable treatment in that regard; and a fear of retaliation for voicing concerns.

As a part of the review, 18,720 administrative and academic employees received emails inviting them to report information, insights, or concerns regarding equitable treatment of employees.

A pool of 102 responded and were interviewed by the firm. Of those, 57 reported concerns of inequitable treatment on the basis of a protected class. Many of those interviewed said they feared retaliation if they complained, according to the report.

RELATED: UI releases first report from employment practices review

The law firm recommended the university diversify its membership on hiring boards; clarify policies to prohibit retaliation, so employees feel safe to voice concern; clarify salary-setting; and place a greater emphasis on addressing complaints and the recognition of protected-class concerns.

“We’re going to take a close look at the recommendations … in order to ensure that we create the most inclusive and productive work environment possible,” Reardon said in a statement. “Conducting a thorough and deliberative review of our employment practices has already resulted in changes at the UI.”

The report also stated that based on information collected from human resources, surveys and assessments, and employees indicated that the UI has “improved consistency in its handling of family and medical leave, recruiting, and disability accommodation, and university leadership is making efforts to recruit diverse employees.”

“The university committed significant time and resources to determine how best to improve our workplace culture, and my hope is that the resulting changes make a real difference for faculty and staff,” said UI Chief Human Resources Officer and Associate Vice President Cheryl Reardon in a statement.

The Supervisor [email protected] project will require 3,000 UI supervisors to complete a specially designed training and aims to create a comprehensive approach to supervisor development on campus, Reardon said.

While the training is in part influenced by the review results, Reardon said in a statement that it also satisfies concern from Staff Council, Faculty Senate, and other campus community members. University Human Resources will continue to develop skills in this area in accordance with the university’s strategic plan, she said.

RELATED: UI amends contract again for employment-practices review, extending timeline 

“It’s up to us to maintain excellence and continuously work toward improvement,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement. “… As we work hard to draw and support the best students, let’s not forget to improve upon the qualities that draw and retain the best staff and faculty as well.”

The UI reported that more than 200 faculty and staff worked together to develop the training curriculum in fall 2019, which hones in on the importance of supervisors as well as best practices in recruitment; employee engagement; coaching; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

UI Assistant Athletics Director of Compliance Kevin Zihlman participated in the pilot training in the fall, and said in a statement said he appreciated the reinforcement of policies and procedures in the training, and the awareness it raised about proper supervisor practices.

“We should always be striving to make the workplace not only a wonderful environment for our students and patients, but an environment where UI employees have positive feelings about establishing and maintaining their careers,” Zihlman said.

The first phase of the employee practices review in April 2018 recommended to the UI that it amend its anti-harassment policy, among other changes. Athletics Department did not uncover inequitable treatment of employees on the basis of protected class, though additional recommendations for training were made.

The three phases of the external review included an evaluation of the UI’s academic and operational units, the Athletics Department, and UI Health Care.

Harreld ordered the review after the Meyer and Griesbaum lawsuits in the Athletics Department cost the UI $6.5 million, the law firm determined in January 2019 that its review found “no inequitable treatment” within the department.

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