IOWA CITY — The former University of Iowa athletics department counselor at the center of a sexual harassment scandal was rehired in 2002 after a national search where he beat out other candidates because of his strong qualifications, an oversight official says.
William Hines, chair of the Presidential Committee on Athletics, which provides oversight of the department, defended the school’s decision to hire Peter Gray to oversee its advising and counseling program for athletes in 2002 after he had left the university in 1995.
“I know for a fact that was done absolutely correctly and openly,” Hines told The Associated Press.
Gray resigned last week after an internal report obtained by the Iowa City Press-Citizen concluded that he had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy by improperly touching students and athletes throughout his tenure, dating back to his first earlier employment from 1993 to 1995. The behavior allegedly included overly friendly hugs, massages and other touching that colleagues and students said was unprofessional and made them feel uncomfortable.
The investigation also found that Gray gave football tickets to someone outside the university in exchange for nude photographs and had several pictures on his work computer that were inappropriate and “suggestive in nature,” including a picture of the men’s swimming team he used as a screen saver. Gray’s supervisor acknowledged receiving complaints from employees, coaches and at least one athlete about Gray’s behavior at work and local establishments frequented by students.
Critics, including Regent Bob Downer of Iowa City, have questioned why Gray was rehired years after there had been concerns about his behavior. University of Iowa President Sally Mason said Tuesday she is reviewing the entire situation, and the Iowa Board of Regents is also gathering information.
Hines, a professor and former law school dean, said in an interview Tuesday he has inquired with department officials into the matter and is satisfied that Gray’s rehiring was above board.
Hines said he does not believe that Gray left “under a cloud” in 1995 but rather for a promotion at another university. The same year, Gray earned his doctorate degree from Indiana University’s school of education. Gray then worked at University of Mississippi, Coastal Carolina and Indiana and before returning to Iowa City in 2002.
Hines said Gray was hired in 2002 as the associate director of athletics student services after a search drew a number of other well-qualified candidates, and Gray was determined to be far and away “the outstanding candidate in the pool.” Gray was in charge of supervising athletics counselors and monitoring the academic progress of student-athletes.
A year after his rehiring, the university opened the $4.6 million Gerdin Athletic Learning Center, touted as a state-of-the-art building where student-athletes can focus on academics. Under Gray’s tenure, the department routinely pointed to data to tout improvements in academics. Iowa announced last month that student-athletes had set school new records for academic achievement, with 77 percent of those who enrolled in fall 2005 having graduated, a higher mark than the student body and 12 points better than student-athletes nationally.
Phone numbers for Gray have been disconnected, and he has not returned Facebook messages seeking comment.
Hines said that he believed Gray was essential in helping countless athletes keep up with their school work and graduate on time over the last decade. He described him as “the happiest guy in the room, upbeat and kind of uplifting” and quick to dole out inspiration and encouragement. But these days, Hines said, Gray is devastated by the sudden downfall of his career and locked himself away in his Iowa City home.
“This kind of came as a shock,” he said. “From our point of view, this was one of our outstanding counselors who was doing a great job.”