Iowa State President Steven Leath will no longer fly ISU aircraft

Leath is giving to foundation amount his accident cost university

Iowa State University President Steven Leath speaks during a Gazette editorial board meeting at The Gazette and KCRG building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 04, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
Iowa State University President Steven Leath speaks during a Gazette editorial board meeting at The Gazette and KCRG building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 04, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)

After disclosing last week that he occasionally pilots one of his institution’s airplanes and last year caused $12,000 in damage, Iowa State University President Steven Leath said Monday he’ll “no longer fly any state-owned aircraft.”

Of the times Leath has flown the university’s single-engine Cirrus SR22 since he arrived on campus in 2012, four involved personal business — including an 11-day trip to North Carolina in July 2015.

During that flight, Leath encountered a microburst — a localized downdraft within a thunderstorm — resulting in a “hard landing” at the Bloomington, Ill., airport that caused a wing flap to clip a runway light, according to ISU.

The university covered the $12,000 in repairs using non-general fund resources — which officials described as “discretionary funds consisting of interest of earnings.” In a statement Monday, Leath said he believes the incident could have been covered by university insurance.

“However, for business reasons, the claim was not submitted and the cost of the repairs was covered by non-general use funds,” he said.

ISU officials did not immediately elaborate on the “business reasons” that kept them from submitting the claim. But Leath said he and his wife decided to donate to the ISU Foundation “an amount equal to all of the cost associated with this incident.”

That, he said, includes repair and storage costs for the plane. University officials didn’t disclose the amount of Leath’s donation, which he said will go toward ISU’s scholarship fund.

Leath also said he made no attempt to hide the incident.


“When it happened, I immediate notified the airport tower and ISU Flight Service and subsequently the FAA,” he said. “I later notified Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter.”

Although not specifically citing the hard landing incident, Rastetter said in a statement Friday he was “aware of President Leath’s use of the university plane.”

Leath has been a pilot for more than a decade after receiving initial training in North Carolina and additional training since arriving at ISU. He occasionally flies the Cirrus SR22 for university business and flight training required by the FAA and the university insurer, officials said.

For the four trips Leath took with the plane involving personal business, he reimbursed the university $4,637. The rate was based on a predetermined formula developed by ISU Flight Service, officials said.

Those trips all were to North Carolina and involved donor contacts, some personal business and “tight travel schedules,” ISU spokesman John McCarroll said.

Reimbursements break down as follows:

Trip one March 25-29, 2015, cost $1,212.50. An invoice was sent April 7 and Leath produced a check April 8.

Trip two May 12-17, 2015, cost $1,162.50. An invoice was sent Sept. 23 and Leath produced a check Nov. 19.

Trip three July 3-14, 2015, cost $1,100. An invoice was sent Nov. 18, and Leath produced a check Nov. 19.


Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Trip four Aug. 26-30, 2016, cost $1,162.50. An invoice was sent Sept. 2 and Leath produced a check Sept. 9.

In addition to the Cirrus SR22, ISU owns a Beechcraft King Air twin-engine plane that requires two pilots in the cockpit. McCarroll reiterated Monday that Leath has never piloted that craft, and Leath stressed he didn’t violate policy or state law.

He began exploring the possibility of piloting university aircraft in October 2014 due to his “extremely busy, complex schedule that often requires travel across the state and country.”

“Given the challenges and expense of commercial air travel, I believed my ability to fly this plane as an FAA certified pilot would allow for more efficiency and flexibility as well as a more cost-effective travel option,” Leath stated.

The Office of University Risk Management and University Counsel determined Leath’s piloting was allowable under applicable insurance policies, he said. According to ISU policy, for travel mixing university and personal business, ISU should cover expenses for its portion and the traveler should cover anything related to the personal portion.

“Rather than try to allocate the flight expenses between the personal and business travel, I simply reimbursed the university for the full amount,” Leath said in the statement. “This practice was above and beyond what is required by Iowa State policy.”

Leath went on to explain the portion of his job that requires he champion the university and foster relationships with alumni, partners, friends and benefactors aimed at generating resources for the university’s “continued growth and success.”

“This requires frequent travel on behalf of Iowa State across Iowa, the country, and even at times, the world,” he said. “Janet and I also maintain a cabin in the North Carolina mountains, which we have opened up to host existing donors and to foster new relationships with prospective supporters to the benefit of Iowa State.”


In response to news of Leath’s use of ISU aircraft, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, on Monday said lawmakers will continue reviewing the Board of Regents’ management of Iowa’s public universities in the upcoming legislative session.

“This plane crash and the lack of disclosure for 14 months is the latest in a series of incidents which raise significant concerns about the Board of Regents’ management of Iowa’s three public universities,” Hogg said in a statement. “I believe lawmakers should review this and other issues during the 2017 session of the Iowa Legislature.”

Hogg was among three lawmakers who met with members of the public in Cedar Falls earlier this month to discuss the board and concerns related to its governance. Hogg said he’s glad no one was hurt in Leath’s aviation accident last year.

“I am also glad that President Leath is now taking responsibility for the damage he caused to state-owned property and that he has promised to no longer pilot ISU-owned airplanes for personal trips,” he said.


MORE Higher education ARTICLES TO READ NEXT ...

Construction cranes that often dot the skylines at Iowa's public university campuses could be seen less often under a budget proposal made this week by Gov. Kim Reynolds.Keep constructing a pharmacy building at the University of I ...

After spending two days behind closed doors evaluating its university presidents and institutional heads, Iowa's Board of Regents this week took no action to increase pay or offer new compensation incentives.The no-news report fro ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.