Leath discusses legislature, coach contracts, initiatives with senators

The legislative outlook, coach contracts, new faculty hires, plans to raise Iowa State's profile, MOOCs and lessons learned from the Harkin Institute flap were part of the discussion as president Steven Leath addressed the Faculty Senate Tuesday.

Legislative outlook

After many years of cuts, Leath said he was pleased with last year's increase in the recurring budget line and is "quite confident we'll see increases in our general appropriations again this year.

"We're still not where we were three or four years ago, but if we're trending up, I think it says a number of things. It says Iowa is still committed to funding higher education. And it says that they are looking favorably on what we're doing."

Leath told senators he's sensitive to salary issues.

"We had very modest increases last year, which is better than no increase. We're looking at a salary increase again this year, which again is good. It will not be as large as I hoped for or you hoped for, but hopefully over time we can raise those numbers."

Federal relations downsizing

Iowa State has considerably downsized its federal relations unit, Leath said.

"We were spending a lot of money on federal relations. We have hired one person now to do federal relations for us, a former student body president, and Sophia [Magill] is doing a good job.

"It's tough right now in federal relations. There's not a lot of harmony in Washington and there's not a lot of money right now in Washington. But much of our effort is being spent on big policy initiatives -- like Pell Grants and the other things that are directly important to the academy."

Coping with record enrollment

Leath said he was proud of the record enrollment of students, but recognizes the burden it puts on faculty.

"We've grown almost 25 percent in student numbers over the last 10 years and we essentially didn't grow at all in our faculty numbers. There comes a limit to how much we can ask individuals to do with bigger class sizes and other demands and maintain quality and maintain morale."

Leath said he and senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert have committed to hiring 200 more faculty within a couple of years.

Athletics and academics

"Athletics has been a bright spot," Leath said, pointing to athletic successes in various sports. "But I want to take the opportunity to say we're not going to be one of those schools where the tail wags the dog.

"I think we've done a good job with athletics here and Jamie [athletics director Pollard] has got the culture of the athletics group right. They want to win. They want to win, though, in a way I think we can be proud of. If you look at our academic success, it's really tremendous among the student-athletes. We put a lot of demand on student-athletes. But they're doing better than just about any other group in the country in terms of academic success."

Coach contracts

Leath said a fundamental change in coach contracts at Iowa State now ties coaches' raises more directly to academic performance.

"Coach [Fred] Hoiberg was the first to agree to that new kind of contract. It set a model. We just did Christy Johnson-Lynch's that way, too.

"When we first brought it up, the agents told us, 'We don't do contracts that way,' and I told them, 'Well, we don't do them the old way anymore, either.'"

Two initiatives

Leath mentioned a couple of initiatives that are under way -- one to enhance institutional excellence and another, to build a collaborative science culture.

A committee and several subcommittees are working on the first initiative, which involves such goals as increasing Ph.D. enrollment and national recognition for faculty.

"I'll be challenging the committee next time we meet to give me some specific examples of what we can do to enhance the arts and humanities faculty," he said.

Many initiatives involving the National Academy of Sciences, big grant programs or private funding from companies tend to be in the ag sciences/engineering sides of the campus rather than arts and humanities, Leath said. He called upon faculty to provide some ideas on how to help move arts and humanities forward.

The second initiative, a large interdisciplinary research initiative, will provide funding to three teams developing large-scale research proposals. Leath said he was pleased at the "huge number" of faculty members represented on the 14 proposals.

"Some of these proposals had faculty in engineering, the sciences and humanities all in the same proposal."

"We also have a number of smaller proposals we want to give, more as seed grants to help foster innovation and entrepreneurship. I'm a firm believer that a lot of the big problems in society that are left are the complex ones that are solved by multidisciplinary approaches."

Fundraising for scholarships

Leath pointed to recent success in raising funds for scholarships.

"In an effort to hold down tuition costs, we've got this kind of agreement with the legislature and the regents that if we can raise $150 million in scholarship money in five years that they will help provide additional funding for need-based student aid," he said.

"Since July when we started this, we've already raised $39 million of $150 million. So if we have a $30 million a year goal, we're way ahead of schedule. We will hopefully have some leverage to put on folks to show that we as a university did our part in raising scholarship money."

MOOCs and other online learning

In response to a question about MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other online education, Leath said he and administrators are paying attention to the literature, going to sessions and talking with a "flagships group" started by Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas, Austin, about some collaborations.

"I think we have to be very careful not to let people outside this campus drive our priorities in education delivery systems," he said.

"Over the next year or so, we'll probably have a better idea of where we'd like to see it go at the top level, " Leath added. "This is largely faculty-driven, and what might be an acceptable approach in one department and one discipline does not fit well in some other disciplines."

"As administrators we have to be careful not to manage this from the top down, but more set the philosophical stage. I think you'll find we're still going to have a strong residential experience. We'll be supportive of blended learning and some online. We'll be real supportive of online programs or degrees past the bachelor's level. I don't anticipate them at the bachelor's level. And you'll see more coordinated development of the bigger classes than just taking one off the shelf, so to speak."

The Harkin Institute

Asked for his "take home" on the Harkin Institute, Leath offered three lessons learned during the prolonged controversy over the institute.

  1. "There's a lot of inherent risk in naming any institute or entity at a public university after a sitting politician. We should have been more thoughtful and more careful when we did it. My personal approach would have been to form the institute, if the faculty wanted it, vet it properly, form it, make it a public policy institute and not name it after anyone. And if and when a politician retired and wanted to bring papers and maybe be a scholar-in-residence, we'd embrace that."
  2. "To have any institute formed on this campus that overlapped with another entity on this campus and not tell the first entity, was a mistake. In this case, the Harkin Institute was going to cover agriculture as one of its primary functions. That's probably fine, but to not tell CARD [Center for Agriculture and Rural Development] and not tell the dean of agriculture that you're making a duplicative institute is naturally going to create some distrust on that side. I think we should be cooperative and collaborative and how is that possible if you start that way?"
  3. "Similarly (there's enough blame to go around here), once that was done, I think to create an MOU [memorandum of understanding] forbidding the Harkin Institute from working in ag and not telling the Harkins and not telling the Harkin Institute Advisory Committee was equally bad, because now you've created distrust on the other side of the issue."

Senate business

The senate:

  • Approved changes to a policy on promotion and tenure voting procedures. Under a guiding principle of "one-person, one-vote," the policy stipulates that a faculty member who already voted as part of a departmental P&T committee cannot vote again at the departmental, college or other levels.
  • Approved a clarification to Faculty Handbook policy on renaming academic units as a result of a philanthropic gifts. The revised policy affirms that "appending a name to an academic unit as a result of philanthropic gift is within the purview of the president." It also states that "the faculty of the unit will be informed and provide advice to the president prior to the naming or renaming."
  • Elected Eric Burrough, assistant professor in the department of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, to a three-year term on the Athletics Council.