University to undergo federal investigation

An anonymous party filed a complaint in November alleging gender discrimination.

Betsy Helfand

A federal office will investigate a complaint alleging that the University of Minnesota has discriminated against women on the basis of gender, according to a government document and a press release.

The complaint was filed with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to explore whether the school had violated Title IX, which protects against gender-based discrimination.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the University fails to provide women with the same opportunities as men in areas including equipment and supplies, scheduling, facilities and athletic scholarships, according a letter from the Office for Civil Rights obtained by the Minnesota Daily. 

If the OCR finds the University to be out of compliance with Title IX, it risks losing federal funding.

An anonymous party filed the complaint in November. That party wrote in an email to track and field athletes that the complaint’s intent was to “prevent the destruction of the current outdoor track or force the construction of a new track — before the 2016 outdoor season.”

A football building included in the athletics department’s $190 million facilities plan is slated to displace the school’s outdoor track, home to 136 student-athletes, 87 of which are women, as listed on the team’s official roster.

But some team members don’t understand how Title IX factors into the situation.

“I’m confused why the word Title IX is being thrown around. It’s a business,” said one member of the women’s track team.

The anonymous party who filed the complaint wrote in an email to track and field athletes that Title IX was used as “the only means I could find to save the track facility” and “my intent was not to ignore the affect [sic] this is having on the men’s team.”

The party said it filed the complaint after reading a petition started by a member of the track and field team.

The petition, which had nearly 1,700 supporters before it closed, questioned the way the University is treating the track teams.

“We chose to come to Minnesota with no idea this could happen and now are being told we are such a low priority that nothing may be done during our time here as Gophers,” the petition read. “Why wouldn’t a new track be built before the athletic village forces us from our home?”

A member of the Gophers men’s track team said student-athletes haven’t been told where the new facility will be built, but that the St. Paul campus is being considered.

Men’s head coach Steve Plasencia said the team will have to use a facility away from campus in 2016, although he wasn’t sure what that would be. The location of the new track has also yet to be named, he said.

“We are looking forward to having the new site for the track named so we can get on out and embrace what our new home is going to be and move forward confidently,” Plasencia said.

But the member of the women’s track team and a member of the men’s team said they were annoyed that the complaint was filed, saying that it will slow down the facilities plan.

 “Our team, the track team, doesn’t make any money, doesn’t bring in any revenue, so we are going to get the short stick with many things, and I guess this is the biggest short stick. [Athletics director Norwood Teague] said that he was working on a plan, but we still haven’t seen anything,” said the member of the men’s track team.

Teague recently wrote in an email to student-athletes that the University and Gopher Athletics “will cooperate fully with the investigation,” which he expects to begin in February.

The Daily reported in September that the OCR was investigating the University for a separate complaint alleging that the school didn’t take effective steps to end sexual harassment by a former volunteer assistant coach for the women’s gymnastics team.

Last summer, before the University received the complaint, it hired a gender-equity consultant to review the athletics department, a press release said.

“The University and Gopher Athletics are committed to Title IX compliance,” the release said. “We focus on the student-athlete experience to ensure our student-athletes are provided equitable experiences and opportunities.”