Regents President Rastetter sought 'points of pride' for Leath after negative news

Regent Sahai: 'I am dumbfounded and outraged'

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In the days after Iowa State University President Steven Leath made news for his use of university aircraft, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter requested “points of pride related to President Leath’s tenure at Iowa State.”

Megan Landolt, ISU assistant to the president for communications, in a Sept. 30 email to a staffer with Summit Agricultural Group — Rastetter’s business in Alden — said “President Leath informed me that President Rastetter requested a list of points of pride” and she included a page of highlights.

Leath wrote to Regents Executive Director Robert Donley minutes later to say, “I will get you more too.” Those points — citing, among other things, Iowa State’s unprecedented enrollment growth and recent fundraising success — have been pushed out in recent weeks to counter negative press around Leath’s plane use, including when he spoke to student leaders on the topic earlier this month.

That email exchange, obtained by The Gazette, came three days after Regent Subhash Sahai expressed outrage at not being told of Leath’s plane use and a hard landing he experienced more than a year ago that damaged both wings on ISU’s Cirrus SR22, costing $17,373.70.

“I am dumbfounded and outraged at the news stories that have appeared about private use of the ISU plane by President Leath,” Sahai wrote in a Sept. 26 email to Donley and regents spokesman Josh Lehman. “Who knew about it and when? Why were not the other board members (I am assuming I was not the only left out) apprised of the situation?”

Sahai followed up that email with another on Oct. 5 listing questions, like how many times were the planes used and how is the university reimbursed? He also asked the board leadership to find out who uses the planes most, when Leath informed Rastetter about the incident, and why no insurance claim was filed.

“I need this information well before the next board meeting,” Sahai said.

To which Donley responded, “Will do.”

Lehman told The Gazette Donley had a phone conversation with Sahai, during which “they discussed that many of his questions would likely be addressed at the board meeting.”

Iowa State has failed to answer some of those questions for The Gazette. Landolt, for example, hasn’t said how often the three ISU Flight Service pilots have flown the Cirrus since its purchase in 2014. And to the question of when Leath notified Rastetter, Landolt said Leath told him “sometime after the incident.”

“President Leath has said several times that he can’t recall exactly when he told Bruce, but the two talk regularly,” she said.

Leath and Rastetter’s relationship has come into question in recent weeks after the Des Moines Register reported Leath’s family last fall bought 145 acres of land through Rastetter’s Summit Ag Group for $623,000. According to the Register, Rastetter said he was not involved in the land transaction but rather Summit President Eric Peterson headed the deal, which involved Summit’s purchase of a 215-acre plot for $1.14 million and then sale of 89 acres of timber and 56 acres of farmland to a corporation created by Leath’s family.

Leath, while talking to ISU student leaders earlier this month, called into question Rastetter’s claims he wasn’t involved when he said, “Regent Rastetter and I looked at it, he wanted the farm ground, I wanted the timber recreational ground. We decided to split it if we could buy it.”

Because of land survey requirements and the time of year, Leath said Rastetter bought the whole parcel and then sold part of it to Leath “for the same price he paid.”

“I thought that was very appropriate and straight forward,” Leath told ISU students.

When asked about Rastetter’s request for “points of pride” following news of Leath’s plane use, former Regent Bob Downer said he doesn’t necessarily object to that type of board advocacy for its institution heads “so long as it’s evenhanded.”

“But it has not been handled in an evenhanded manner, in my opinion, and to that I object,” Downer said, citing the board’s public reprimand on several occasions of former UI President Sally Mason.

“I just wish they’d have been that supportive of President Mason,” he said.

Although Donley’s responses to Sahai’s concerns about Leath’s plane use and communication with Rastetter aren’t documented, Leath responded to Sahai via email Sept. 28 — saying he was surprised by Sahai’s comments.

“I informed the regent’s president,” Leath wrote to Sahai. “Bruce has been very helpful in navigating through this issue.”

Sahai responded that Leath shouldn’t have been surprised.

“You did not let the board office know about this incidence so it could have been communicated to all of us,” he wrote Oct. 9.

Leath wrote back, “I did not think this amount of damage warranted a full announcement.”

“It is the equivalent of $600 damage on a $35,000 car,” he wrote. “We would not report that to the regents’ office. However, given all the sensitivity, I wish I had told everyone.”

That damage and Leath’s use of university planes — including on several trips that involved both university and personal business — will be discussed this week at the Board of Regents’ meeting in Cedar Falls. The board also has launched a review of travel and equipment policies at use at all three of its public institutions.

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