Rob Sand graduated from the University of Iowa’s law school. He wore a tie with the school’s black-and-gold colors to work Monday. In his own words to Sports Illustrated: “I’m a Hawkeye.”
But the State Auditor and member of Iowa’s Appeal Board didn’t allow his allegiances to preclude him from calling out wrongdoing when he saw it. On Monday, he stood up for what he believed was right.
When the University of Iowa asked for $2 million of taxpayer funds to cover nearly half of a negotiated $4.175 million settlement with former Black football players who sued the program for racial discrimination, Sand said he would vote for the settlement as long as athletic director Gary Barta was removed from his job. Sand, a Democrat, was the only dissenting vote in the settlement that passed by a 2-1 margin along party lines.
“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills,” Sand says. “I’m literally sitting here in my living room, petting my dog, wondering if the whole world has gone crazy.”
This is the fourth discrimination case settled since Barta took over as Iowa’s athletic director in 2006. The three previous cases have totaled over $7 million, all of which was paid by the university. An additional internal investigation led to the resignation of an athletic department employee after an internal investigation accused him of sexually harassing students and athletes, while the other cases are different because the school typically paid the bills. This time, they asked for direct access to a general fund, which means the matter came under the oversight of the Appeal Board, which includes State Treasurer Roby Smith, and Director of the Department of Revenue Kraig Paulsen.
“Honestly, I felt like I couldn't vote for the settlement without having to take a shower afterwards, which is a pretty good baseline on what the right thing to do is,” Sand says.
On Friday, Sand reached out to Barta’s office, had a phone call with the AD to let him know his position and sent letters to the other two people on the appeal board (Sand is precluded from discussing the matter with them outside of public hearings). He believed this was a way to hold someone accountable and not just write a check to make the problem go away.
He was optimistic Smith and Paulsen would vote along with him, but they ultimately did not, citing unease around the singling out of Barta.
“You know what’s even stupider about this now is, what are we going to do when there’s a settlement at Iowa State or [Northern Iowa] when they’re like, ‘You guys paid for the University of Iowa’s settlement. Where’s our check?’” Sand says.
In the football players’ case, an outside legal investigation found “the program’s rules perpetuated racial or cultural biases and diminished the value of cultural diversity,” which was the impetus for the lawsuit in the first place. The suit originally included the university, its regents, football coach Kirk Ferentz, his son Brian (also the team’s offensive coordinator), the school’s board of regents and strength coaches, Chris Doyle and Raimond Braithwaite. Throughout the legal process, Kirk and Brian Ferentz, Barta and Doyle were dismissed from the lawsuit as part of the settlement agreement. Shortly after the settlement went through, Kirk Ferentz said it was agreed upon between lawyers.
Sand’s objections to Barta’s employment are about more than just the football program. He says he would do the same thing again if it was any other athletic program on campus, citing the multiple discrimination lawsuits that are permeating the entire department.
“The point at the end of the day is, you’ve had four tries to understand that discrimination is bad, Gary, and the fact that you can’t understand that means we need to find a new AD,” Sand says. “This is terrible stuff that is happening to people and we should take a stand to stop it, not just because it would save us money but I think we should care about people.”