Higher education

Review will look back at Iowa State plane use

Regent praises Leath: 'A ding on an airplane wing is not going to mess up the good work that's been done'

Iowa State University President Steven Leath. (The Gazette)
Iowa State University President Steven Leath. (The Gazette)

Beyond a recently-announced review of equipment and travel policies at Iowa’s public universities, Board of Regents auditors are doing a “deep dive” into how those policies have been practiced — including how Iowa State University President Steven Leath used school airplanes.

“It’s not all going forward,” Regent Larry McKibben said, adding the review also covers “where we’ve been.”

That message jibes with a resolution ISU Student Government passed Oct. 5 asking for a full investigation of Leath’s use of university aircraft. Students, at that time, expressed concern the review would not look at Leath’s past actions, which had come under scrutiny following news he piloted an ISU plane for trips involving personal business and once damaged it, costing more than $17,000.

“It sounds like what we are asking for is already in the works,” said ISU Student Body President Cole Staudt.

The regents meet this week at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. McKibben, head of the board’s audit compliance and investment committee, said he will present the matter and his committee’s plans.

“We are going to do a deeper dive and (board) Executive Director (Bob) Donley has already started the process,” he said.


“We are going to look at the policies, and it could well be that we have to make some adjustments,” McKibben said. “It may be the regents have to tighten some restrictions.”


The committee expects to prepare a full report by the board’s December meeting, McKibben said. And although he has questions about how all the state university presidents travel and use school equipment, McKibben said he’s not going into the review with “a hatchet in my hand.”

McKibben also commented on Leath’s job security, despite the negative news.

“I’m so proud of the work he’s done over there and the growth of the university since he’s been president,” McKibben said. “Iowa State continues to be a very well ranked AAU university. A ding on an airplane wing is not going to mess up the good work that’s been done.”

Leath last week wrote to the nine regents explaining his use of ISU’s single-engine Cirrus SR22 plane and the hard landing that occurred in July 2015. He said the landing came after an 11-day trip to North Carolina that included both a “top donor meeting” and a personal vacation.

He and his wife were in the plane and needed to stop for fuel in Bloomington, Ill., when they experienced a microburst that caused the hard landing, damaging one of the plane’s wings.

“I immediately contacted the control tower, ISU Flight Service and subsequently the FAA,” he wrote in the letter. “I later shared this information with Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter while discussing other matters.”

Leath has not disclosed exactly when he told Rastetter and whether it was over the phone, in person or by email.

ISU officials have said they have no documents about the communication. Leath has said he doesn’t know why Rastetter didn’t tell the rest of the board about the incident, which cost the university $17,373.70.

After news broke of the expense to the institution, Leath made a donation to the ISU Foundation in the same amount. He also has vowed not to fly the Cirrus again and to be more cautious about use of ISU’s larger King Air 350, which he has used extensively as a passenger.


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In his letter, Leath explained his use of the King Air, including for a trip to the NCAA basketball tournament in New York in 2014 in which he picked up his brother and sister-in-law.

He wrote that he does not believe he violated travel policies, and noted his interactions with donors over the next four years will be “increasingly critical” to support ISU’s largest-ever fundraising campaign aimed at bringing in $1.1 billion.

“To achieve this goal, travel and donor relations will remain essential functions of my role as president,” he wrote.


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