Higher education

Regents to investigate 'each individual flight' since Leath arrived at Iowa State

Board President Rastetter 'extremely disappointed'

Iowa State University President Steven Leath meets with the Iowa Board of Regents at their meeting in Cedar Falls Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa State University President Steven Leath meets with the Iowa Board of Regents at their meeting in Cedar Falls Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — A Board of Regents audit of its universities’ travel practices and policies will look into each individual flight out of Iowa State University Flight Service since President Steven Leath arrived in 2012.

Last month, the board launched a preliminary review of its schools’ travel and equipment use and policies after news broke that Leath has used planes, at times, for personal business and damaged one of the planes last year, costing ISU more than $17,000.

During the board’s meeting Thursday, regents President Bruce Rastetter said he’s “extremely disappointed” with Leath’s use of the planes.

“We at the Board of Regents take the use of university resources very seriously,” he said. “In more than just a few instances, the decision to use the plane appears to be questionable — at best.”

Rastetter said he and many board members would agree that Leath has been successful at Iowa State. But, he added, the board has an obligation to “oversee and ensure that our policies are followed and that our resources are used appropriately.”

“We are all appointed as board members to ensure that our universities are run in a manner that the people of Iowa expect and demand,” Rastetter said. “The issue has taken focus away from us being able to move our public universities forward.”

In an effort to address that, Rastetter said, “I very clearly believe additional action is warranted.”

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Initially, that action came in the form of a request for ISU auditors to investigate “each individual flight” out of ISU Flight Service since Leath arrived on campus. That audit will include a review of passengers who flew with Leath – to ensure they were prospective donors, as he’s said.

“We will move forward in a very open and transparent way so we can get this issue behind us,” Rastetter said.

Leath, in addressing the board, said he’s pleased about the audit and pledged to “work closely with you folks to make sure that it’s as complete as it can be.”

“I and the whole university are committed to adhering to university and board policies,” Leath said. “And we welcome the review, and I am fully supportive and will be fully engaged in the more complicated review that will be coming forth this fall.”

Leath acknowledged areas “where I and Iowa State can improve.”

“And I want you to know that I am pledging to do that,” he said. “We will improve, and we will do better.”

Regent Subhash Sahai reiterated his criticism of how Leath reported his plane use and damage caused to one of the planes — only notifying Rastetter on a date he can’t recall.

“I think it’s important for all the presidents to realize that your bosses are not just one board member,” Sahai said. “Anything of this type of gravity or this type of importance should be referred to Bob Donley, director of the board, so that it could by conveyed to all board members.”

He accused Leath and Rastetter of taking the matter “somewhat lightly … somewhat with a cavalier attitude.”

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“You and our president of the board didn’t take it as important as they should have,” Sahai said.

Rastetter refuted that while talking to reporters after the meeting.

“None of this was handled in cavalier manner,” he said. “We take this very seriously.”

He also rebuffed Sahai’s assertion that Leath has nine bosses.

“I’ve never known anyone who’s had nine bosses in his life,” Rastetter said. “The structure of the regents is such they elect a president and president pro tem, and we have over the time assigned a president and president pro tem to each university.”

If a university president needs counsel, Rastetter said, or needs to “share something confidential, that he needs advice, he needs help on fundraising and calls, whatever that may be, they have someone to call.”

In response to what he knew about Leath’s hard landing and when, Rastetter said, “Quite frankly, I don’t keep a log of our conversations.”

“It was sometime last fall, and it was in and amongst other things,” he said. “It wasn’t relevant to me because I was told after it happened. My question was, was everybody safe?”

He said Leath was already flying the plane again by that time.

“To me, It wasn’t something that rose to calling all the regents,” he said. “Our process works really well. But again, we will review that.”

Todd Stewart, chief audit executive with the board, on Thursday went over the findings from his initial review of university travel and equipment use.

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Auditors found policies to be lacking — especially at Iowa State, which is “silent on the use of university owned or chartered planes.” UI and UNI, meanwhile, have policies covering chartered flights, including authorization, decision-making considerations, and situations where charter use “is reasonable.”

Regarding use of private aircraft, Iowa State policy is limited to reimbursement guidelines, while UNI provides some guidance, and UI policy is “extensive, covering liability, reimbursement, and conditions and requirements for use.”

UI and UNI limit private aircraft reimbursement, while ISU does not limit reimbursements or require receipts.

Auditors suggested Iowa State should make numerous changes, including enacting private aircraft reimbursement limits, requiring receipts, and expanding or reviewing all its travel and equipment use policies.

The audit also suggests the board and the other two universities review their policies “to ensure they address appropriate and reasonable use of university-owned and/or chartered planes.”

In looking at each university president’s travel, auditors found the UI and UNI presidents travel primarily by car and commercial air flight. The ISU president travels by car, commercial flight, and university-owned aircraft.

Approval of presidential travel involves the provost at UNI, a senior financial analyst at UI, and a senior vice president at ISU.

“Each president’s travel should be approved at a vice president level,” according to an audit recommendation.

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Auditors also looked into the purchase of Iowa State’s aircraft — a Beechcraft King Air for $2.875 million and a Cirrus SR22 for $498,000 — and they found the purchases complied with board policy.

In reviewing who uses the two aircraft, the president’s office is the primary user of the Cirrus. The King Air’s use involves the president’s office, the athletic department, and the ISU Foundation.

Iowa State doesn’t keep a log of its Cirrus flights, and auditors recommended it start doing so.

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