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Audit: U. of Iowa followed internal policies in sex harassment case against athletics official

University of Iowa officials responded quickly to allegations against an athletics department official accused of improperly touching students and properly followed internal policies during the investigation, according to an audit report released Wednesday.

University auditors also found "no irregularities" in the hiring of Peter Gray in 2002 to supervise counseling and advising services for athletes despite his firing from another job in 1999 and allegations about improper behavior during his earlier employment at Iowa, according to the report.

University President Sally Mason ordered the review in November amid a firestorm that followed Gray's resignation. An internal university report accused him of sexually harassing students and athletes through improper touching that included shoulder massages, hugging and rubbing — behavior that allegedly dated back to his earlier work at Iowa from 1993 to 1995.

That report also alleged that he had improper sexual photographs on his computer, including a screen saver of the men's swimming team and two showing individuals engaged in sex acts with stuffed animals or toys, and had traded complementary football tickets to someone outside the university for nude photos. A superior had counseled Gray about his behavior, but it continued despite complaints from colleagues, coaches and at least one athlete, the report said. Gray acknowledged some touching but denied grabbing a student's genitals or buttocks.

Mason had apologized to those affected and ordered the audit and separate reviews of hiring and management policies. Gray's supervisor, longtime athletics department official Fred Mims, was stripped of his management duties, and the department reorganized a unit that oversaw student services and compliance with NCAA rules into separate divisions.

The report by the school's Office of Internal Audit was released Wednesday at a meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents in West Des Moines. It found that the university provost's office was made aware Sept. 25 about allegations against Gray, and the school's sexual misconduct response coordinator was immediately notified. Within a week, a formal complaint was filed and a joint investigation by the Equal Opportunity and Diversity office and human resources officials was launched. Gray was placed on paid leave Oct. 8.

The investigation report concluding that Gray violated university's sexual harassment policies was issued Oct. 24, far ahead of an internal guideline for completing written findings within 45 days. Gray resigned days later.

The audit appears to undercut earlier criticism by Board of Regents President Craig Lang that the university moved slowly and failed to implement sexual harassment training for employees ordered in 2008 after a sexual assault scandal involving football players. In fact, auditors found, all athletics department employees had received the training as of Nov. 30, weeks after the scandal broke, compared with a university-wide rate of 82 percent.

Lang did not attend Wednesday's meeting, but he said in an email Monday that the report was only "a start and we will request more information." Regents did not ask the chief auditor, Todd Stewart, any questions after he presented a brief summary of the report.

The report said Gray beat out 27 others who applied for the 2002 job at Iowa and that the department "followed university policy and procedures for this hire." Gray had been fired from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., in 1999 for poor performance. He worked as an athletics department adviser at Indiana University from 1999 until 2002 and at University of Mississippi from 1995 until 1998 after leaving Iowa the first time.

The report also found "no significant issues" with department employees' use of complementary tickets to sporting events.

In the one area targeted for improvement, auditors found that 24 out of 183 department employees did not have the required annual performance review, a higher non-compliance rate than the university as a whole, and recommended several changes. Athletics officials vowed to take steps to reduce the number of reviews that aren't completed and make sure they are signed and stored properly.

Gray's supervisor never mentioned any "documented incidents or accusations regarding sexual harassment" in annual performance reviews examined by auditors, the report found.