Veishea Q&A

Steven Leath

President Steven Leath responds to a question during his Aug. 7 news conference at which he announced the end of Iowa State's Veishea celebration. Photo by Courtney Jacobsen.


Below are highlights of President Steven Leath's Q&A with central Iowa media members following his announcement that the Veishea event and name were being retired.

Do you have any concerns that events that might take place in the future could be seen as replacements for Veishea, be associated with Veishea, and the same problems could crop up?

Leath: Well, we always have concerns going forward when we change, but I'll clarify and say I don't have any intent of bulking a bunch of events at the same time, especially at the same time in the spring. I think the good things that come out of Veishea and any new ideas will be more evenly distributed.

As far as highlighting other events, do you see that happening even in this academic school year?

Leath: Yes, for example on student theater, we are going forward with the student theater production.

Veishea is done

President Steven Leath announced today (Aug. 7) his concurrence with the task force recommendation to end Veishea and retire the Veishea name.

As far as the task force recommendations, is there anything that stood out that you thought, 'that's not what we're going to do' or 'that's exactly what we want to do'?

Leath: I think probably where I deviate from the task force is they would have been more inclined to take the good of Veishea and package it together in units and have some mini celebrations. I think there's some inherent risk in bulking them together.

One thing that did surprise me on the task force, though, was the unanimous opinion that Veishea really had to end in its current form and the name had to go away.

All large campuses have challenges with student drinking. How does eliminating the name Veishea and not bulking events change that? What, in addition to that, will you need to do to make sure a beautiful spring weekend doesn't turn into a party anyway?

Leath: You're right. There are huge problems across the nation with drinking and inappropriate behavior. We're not the only university going through this. Right now, when freshmen get to this campus, they are under the impression that Veishea is the equivalent of spring break without having to leave campus. So, when you arrive here and think you're going to have that kind of week, it incentivizes that type of behavior. So pulling these things apart and not having a week like that will certainly help.

Are we naïve in thinking there could be no problems? No. That's really why people like the mayor and her team, (DPS director) Jerry Stewart, are going to sit down with me and we're going to go through this. There are a lot of suggestions that came out of the Veishea task force: greater presence in Campustown, video cameras in Campustown, many things we can look at.

I can't tell you as I stand here today that we'll never have another problem at nighttime that's alcohol-related, but we're going to do everything we can to minimize that.

Describe what this process has been like for you, getting that feedback, who's been writing to you. This impacts a lot of people.

Leath: I've heard from a lot of folks on this along the way. It tended to spike when I made the early decision to cancel Veishea, I got quite a bit of email traffic. I read it all, we tried to respond to all of them.

They varied. Generally speaking, alumni from the '50s and '60s tend to want Veishea to continue. I do worry sometimes that they saw and experienced a very different Veishea than we see now. Social media was not available at those times. Most of them are polite and offer their perspective. Many of them offer suggestions and their suggestions oftentimes were dealt with: whether we should have more police, whether we should break up parties sooner or later, whether we should have consequences for students who misbehave, whether we should not have nighttime concerts. Mackenzie Heddens in my office was staffing the Veishea task force and shared copies of every single email and every suggestion that came in, with the task force.

I also have what I call my Hy-Vee survey. When I go to the grocery store, any number of Ames residents will stop me and give me their take on Veishea. Interestingly, the Ames community is essentially 100 percent that this needed to end and that something needs to be done – of those that come up and are willing to speak to me face-to-face.

Was there anything about this year's event and what happened, that led to your decision, or was it the cumulative effect, that once again violence broke out?

Leath: It's both. We had always hoped and thought that much of the problem that we'd seen over the years was due to people from outside of Ames, outside of our student body, and that it had come on the big weekend of Veishea. It was particularly disturbing to all of us on campus that this year it happened on a Tuesday night. Of the first people arrested, they essentially were all our students. So this was us this time. That was very disappointing to many people associated with Veishea, including the students who were running it.

But you add that up and you look at President Martin Jischke, he had a problem, formed a task force, made a recommendation and implemented it. The next president had the same kinds of problems Martin did, formed a task force, implemented a bunch of changes. Then I came in, and I had a bunch of problems and formed a task force, but we're looking at a different result.

Do you have any thoughts on how this will affect student recruiting and donations from alumni?

Leath: Right now, we're not having a problem recruiting students. There will be over 34,000 of them here in a couple of weeks.

Our market research and our student affairs focus groups tell us that high school students now really don't learn about a university by going to the campus initially. They learn about it from the Internet and many other ways. When you think of rural Iowa 50 years ago, it was hugely impactful for a young student to be able to come to campus and see what's on this campus. By and large, high school students going to college have that information already from other sources, so I really don't think it's going to affect recruiting. I hope that the kids who only came here for a Veishea party go somewhere else, quite frankly. So, I'm not worried about that.

With regard to donations, Roger Neuhaus (here today), president of the Iowa State University Foundation, has been very proactive in informing the foundation of this process. We've received input from foundation governors and board members. I think that they love the university, they want the right thing for the university, they want the university's reputation to be good. They were saddened just like I was to see the coverage that was all over the national media this year. I'm confident our supporters will stand behind us on this.