Higher education

Iowa State President Steven Leath gives $15,000 after plane accident

Leath started inquiring about flying in same year ISU bought planes

Iowa State University President Steven Leath stands for a portrait at The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 building in Cedar Rapids
Iowa State University President Steven Leath stands for a portrait at The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 04, 2015. (File photo/The Gazette)

Iowa State University President Steven Leath on Monday made a $15,000 donation to the ISU Foundation after news emerged he damaged one of its airplanes and cost the institution $13,691.

The actual cost to repair the university-owned Cirrus SR22 that Leath was flying in July 2015 when he experienced a microburst and hard landing — clipping a wing flap on a runway light — was $12,591.72, according to ISU spokesman John McCarroll.

Although the aircraft remained “airworthy,” Leath didn’t fly it home, costing the university $1,099.60 to store the plane in Bloomington, Ill. — where the incident occurred. Leath in a statement this week said he believes ISU insurance would have covered the accident, but “for business reasons” the claim was not submitted and the repairs were covered using “non-general use funds.”

The university hasn’t elaborated on the “business reasons” for not submitting the claim, and McCarroll described the non-general use funds as “discretionary funds consisting of interest of earnings.”

The university last week disclosed the accident and elaborated on its partnership with the City of Ames on a $4.4 million airport-improvement project. That disclosure led not only to Leath’s donation but to an announcement he’ll no longer fly university aircraft.

Leath has been a pilot for more than a decade, receiving initial training in North Carolina and additional training after arriving at ISU in 2012. Iowa State owns two aircraft — a single-engine Cirrus SR22 and a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air — and ISU Flight Service has three “highly-trained pilots.”

Iowa State bought both planes in 2014 — the King Air for $2.4 million and the Cirrus for $498,000, which was lowered to $470,000 after the university traded in another aircraft, according to newly-provided information.


That same year, Leath began exploring the possibility of piloting the smaller aircraft due to his “extremely busy, complex schedule that often requires travel across the state and country.”

Iowa State, according to a news release, notified Board of Regents Executive Director Robert Donley of both plane purchases made using unrestricted private funds managed by the ISU Foundation.

McCarroll said the university doesn’t yet know exactly how Leath’s decision not to pilot will play out — whether he will take more commercial flights.

“He will be a passenger in the university aircraft,” McCarroll said. “He has always utilized both university aircraft and commercial aircraft in his travels. It would not be possible to say today how that would change.”

The university hasn’t provided the exact number of times Leath has flown ISU aircraft, but the university last week disclosed that on four occasions he took the plane to North Carolina for trips involving both university and personal business.

Those trips cost a total $4,637, and Leath reimbursed the university at a rate based on a predetermined formula developed by ISU Flight Service.

And despite the changes since disclosing Leath’s use and plane accident, he’s stressed he didn’t violate university policy or state law. Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter confirmed as much in a statement, saying, “I am also aware of President Leath’s use of the university plane. He is a licensed pilot and can fly aircraft for which he is certified.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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