Higher education

Regents to review President Leath's Iowa State plane use Monday

The board slated to discuss Leath in closed session

A Cirrus SR22 owned by Iowa State University and piloted by ISU President Steve Leath sustained wing damage, above, duri
A Cirrus SR22 owned by Iowa State University and piloted by ISU President Steve Leath sustained wing damage, above, during a hard landing in July 2014 at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. (Photo from Central Illinois Regional Airport)

Board of Regents auditors are wrapping up an in-depth review of university travel practices and policies — including a look at every flight out of Iowa State University since President Steven Leath arrived in 2012 — and they plan to share their findings with the board during a special meeting Monday.

After reviewing the audit, the board is to go into closed session to evaluate Leath, according to an agenda for the Monday meeting made public Friday. Details of the report are not being made public until the meeting, according to Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman.

The board in October commissioned Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart to dig into ISU Flight Service, which has been marred by controversy since news broke of Leath’s personal use of ISU planes and a hard landing he didn’t initially report publicly.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter at the October meeting said he’s “extremely disappointed” in Leath’s use of Iowa State aircraft — including his personal use of a plane and the hard landing in Illinois last summer that cost Iowa State more than $17,000.

Leath didn’t initially offer to cover the costs of the repairs, but after news broke of the accident, he donated $17,500 to the ISU Foundation. Media investigation prompted Iowa State to confirm Leath has, at times, used ISU planes for trips blending personal and professional business.

The university bought its two current aircraft — a Beechcraft King Air 350 and a Cirrus SR22 — in 2014. The ISU Foundation — using discretionary funds designated for Department of Athletics priorities — purchased the King Air for $2.875 million and then spent more than $595,000 on avionics upgrades, inspections, safety improvements, maintenance, refurbishment and branding.

The Cirrus cost Iowa State $470,000, minus the $28,000 trade-in value of the old single-engine plane. ISU officials have said the Cirrus wasn’t purchased specifically so Leath could fly it — although the university hasn’t disclosed specifics about how many people flew the plane and how often.


Leath has confirmed he used the plane often, and funding for the Cirrus came from “private discretionary sources for the institutional head to commit at his/her discretion.” The university hasn’t said how much money is in that account or provided details about what other purchases Leath has made using that account.

“These are not scholarship dollars, faculty position dollars, or capital improvement dollars,” ISU officials have said in an online document detailing Leath’s plane use. “These are donations made specifically for the president’s discretionary use.”

Although Leath has denied any malicious intent in his aircraft use, he has admitted he would do things differently in hindsight and has vowed to no longer pilot the school’s planes. That change, however, could end up costing the university money, time, and efficiency, he has said.

The state auditor’s office also is reviewing Leath’s plane use, although officials haven’t announced details of when that audit might wrap.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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