Presidential address: Budget model, big data, faculty hires

President Steven Leath at the lectern.

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Boost faculty hires. Strengthen ISU's position in big data. Raise the fundraising target for student scholarships. Scrutinize the budget model. These are a few of the items on President Steven Leath's to-do list for the coming year.

Leath shared his priorities and observations and enumerated a variety of Iowa State accomplishments in his Sept. 10 presidential address. Approximately 175 faculty, staff and students attended the event in the Memorial Union's Great Hall.

Here are highlights from the address.


Video of the president's address.

Budget model

Leath said he has asked chief of staff Miles Lackey to scrutinize the budget model, examining direct and allocated costs "to assure that we're aligning incentives between service units and the colleges," he said.

"The bottom line is I think the costs that many of you are being charged are too high. Some of them are way too high for internal services," he added.

Lowering those costs will give academic units and student services units more money to put toward important programs, Leath added.

Faculty Senate and the student experience

For three years, two presidential committees have been responsible for making recommendations to maintain and improve the student experience. The committee work has ended and "I'm going to take a more targeted approach to address the needs of our growing university," Leath said.

Leath said he is asking the Faculty Senate to assist him in identifying ways to move forward in institutional excellence. The senate will be asked to consider such questions as: How do we do continue to expand capacity, lower student-faculty ratio, secure more competitive funding? What are the things administration needs to do to make faculty lives easier and make our faculty more successful?

Developing the strategic plan

Leath said he delayed development of Iowa State's next strategic plan so it could be coordinated with strategic planning by both the Board of Regents and the Iowa State University Foundation.  It makes sense to develop the plans at the same time and to have one person "know what's going on with all of them," Leath said.

That person will be Steve Freeman, professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, and former Faculty Senate president. Leath has asked Freeman to oversee Iowa State's strategic plan and be a point person with the foundation and regents.


Leath lauded three longtime leaders who will depart in the coming months:

  • Senior vice president for student affairs Tom Hill, who "has been the architect and the champion of the Iowa State brand and student experience," will leave at year's end to spend more time with his family in Texas. He will continue his association with Iowa State a bit longer, serving as senior policy adviser on student experience issues and continuing as Iowa State's representative on the NCAA Infractions Committee.
  • University counsel Paul Tanaka, who "has faced some very challenging situations with wisdom and integrity" and maintained the university's reputation for "extremely high ethics," will retire at the end of spring semester.
  • Dean of the College of Human Sciences Pam White, who had "tremendous success in increasing enrollment, fundraising and advancing academic research missions and programs," will retire in July.

In demand

The high demand for an Iowa State education continues, Leath said. With the official student count this fall -- 36,001 -- Iowa State notched its seventh consecutive year of record enrollment.

"We're the only institution in the whole state that has experienced this kind of demand-driven growth, especially to this extent," Leath said.

He added students are drawn to Iowa State because of its commitment to the land-grant mission, first-rate programs in areas that align with and drive the economy, excellent faculty and staff, a supportive culture, good facilities, a beautiful campus and 95 percent placement rate.

"My first priority will still be fulfilling our land-grant mission to make a first-class education accessible and affordable," Leath said.

Leath said he was pleased that Iowa State resident undergraduates enjoyed a third consecutive tuition freeze this semester and noted that the university continues to have the lowest tuition and fees in its peer group of 11 universities. But invoking his oft-repeated mantra -- "access and affordability without quality is no bargain" -- he added that Iowa State, with student backing, will raise tuition in the spring for resident undergraduates -- about $100 per student.

More dollars for students

Leath said officials are working aggressively to raise more funds for student financial aid and scholarships.  The president's Moving Students Forward campaign, launched three years ago with a goal of $150 million by fall 2017, already has brought in more than $145 million. Leath announced he was resetting that goal to $200 million.

"We've seen the results," Leath said. "Last year, more than 5,800 students received privately funded scholarships on this campus. Our students are taking out fewer loans. They're graduating with less debt. The average debt load, for example, of an Iowa State student, dropped 5 percent over the last three years and more than 10 percent in the last nine years."

Fundraising and faculty support

Fundraising hit a new high mark last year -- $167 million -- and this year, officials are finalizing plans for the largest university-wide campaign.

Fundraising "enables us to do the things that we feel are important on this campus," Leath said. This includes not only funding student scholarships and lowering debt, but enhancing faculty's ability to do research and scholarly work.

Leath noted Iowa State gained two new National Academy members this year:

  • New associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering Ronald Leonard, a member of the National Academy of Engineering
  • Cathy Kling, a Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, professor of economics and director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

"I want to position more of our faculty to get to the level and have the recognition they deserve," he said. "If we don't continue to raise private funds to support our faculty so they can achieve greatness like this, we're not doing our jobs."

External funding record

Leath attributed the FY15 external funding record of  $425 million to outstanding work by faculty and the new Grants Hub, which provides a number of services to help researchers obtain and manage external funding. In its first seven months, the Grants Hub helped 130 faculty submit more than $60 million in proposals.

Presidential research initiative 

Leath said he's pleased with the progress of the Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research, a program he launched two years ago to develop research teams equipped to tackle the world's greatest challenges. Teams involved in the initiative have submitted $257 million in grant applications and netted $24 million in new funding. And two of the teams -- one focusing on nanovaccines and the other on crop bioengineering -- are ready to develop into interdisciplinary centers.

Big data

Leath announced that he was expanding the initiative to provide seed funding for projects in data-driven science.

"I want to truly strengthen Iowa State's position as a pioneer in this field of big data," Leath said. "Data science impacts every field, from business to the hard sciences to social sciences. The ability to capture massive amounts of data and harness the information, distill it down to identify industry needs, improve processes, and develop new technologies among other things has transformative potential in so many disciplines.

"We have the fundamental sciences, the fundamental expertise, great faculty in these areas already," he added. "This new research initiative combined with our new online master's program in business analytics presents tremendous opportunities to become a global leader in big data."

Faculty, staff compensation

"The students wouldn't be knocking at the doors, 36,000 at a time, if it wasn't for our outstanding faculty and staff," Leath said.

"We want the best people here. And I think we've been able to acknowledge their work with salary increases over the last four years. But that being said, I was particularly disappointed that we couldn't provide higher increases this year. We had a very challenging legislative session this year."

The No. 1 priority for FY17 is to get additional monies for faculty and staff salaries, Leath said.

Performance-based funding

Leath said he also was disappointed that the General Assembly didn't implement the state Board of Regents' performance-based funding model.

"Our funding in general went up. I'm pleased about that, but it didn't go up to the numbers I think we needed or that we justified. The Legislature did recognize the differences with the universities and gave us $1.2 million of recurring monies," Leath said.

 "And I think we made huge inroads with the governor and the Legislature about what Iowa State is about."

Larger state appropriation request for FY17

Iowa State will submit a larger state appropriation request in recurring dollars than usual, Leath said.

"For FY17, we've gone through the Board of Regents, got their blessing and we're going to ask for $8.2 million in recurring money, in addition to what we get, to move the university forward," He said. "This compares to a smaller request than our sister universities, but I think we have a strong case at Iowa State for that larger request."

Lowering the student-to-faculty ratio

"In making a case to the Legislature, we will emphasize the need for additional funding to support strategic new faculty hires," Leath said. "I am making it a priority this year to lower our student-to-faculty ratio."

Leath noted that over the past 15 years, while enrollment increased 35 to 40 percent in different units, the student-to-faculty ratio jumped more than 46 percent from 13-to-1 to 19-to-1.  Leath said he wants to move that ratio closer to 16-to-1.

 Over the past three years, Iowa State has hired 365 new tenured or tenure-eligible faculty.

"But with attrition and especially our unprecedented growth, we've actually not gained on that ratio at all," Leath said.

"We need additional resources," he said. In addition to faculty hires, additional funds would go toward additional advising support, class offerings, graduate student recruitment and expanding IT infrastructure.

Student health center

Leath noted officials have taken significant steps over the past year to address problems at the student health center.

"We commissioned Keeling and Associates, one of the best health care consulting organizations in the country, to come in, assess our health center and make recommendations on how we can improve it," Leath said.

"We're hired an interim director. We've hired a quality improvement officer. We now have certified medical assistants serving as the first point of contact at the reception desk. We've provided new training for all nurses and physicians on how to better communicate with patients. We're adding psychologists to our mental health center. We've expanded hours. I am confident that this semester, our students will see substantial improvements in service and in care."

Sexual assault

Iowa State is ramping up efforts to address sexual assault on campus, Leath said. The university participated in the Association of American Universities' Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey last spring. AAU will provide survey results later this month and Iowa State, in turn, will release that information.

Leath said the university will use those survey results to reexamine its current practices and develop new policies to better promote a culture of zero tolerance and improve support for survivors.

Post-Veishea showcase

During the Q&A portion of the evening, a student asked Leath if there are any initiatives afoot to develop some kind of festival that showcases student talents and clubs at Iowa State.

Leath said that last spring, he approached Faculty Senate president Kevin Schalinske as well as outgoing student government president Hillary Kletscher and incoming president Dan Breitbarth on this issue. Schalinske, Breitbarth and student body vice president Megan Sweere are three of the members on a six-member committee – three faculty and three students – studying some options.

"I told them we need to be thoughtful about what we can do to showcase this university, give students some of the opportunities they really want here, without risking a disturbance or having another major student injury or death," Leath said.

"The truth of the matter is – and this is my deal – I was not in a hurry," Leath added. "I felt we needed a little down time between what happened last time and starting again. And I'm certainly not in favor of putting a bunch of events in the same week or the same weekend in April."

Leath said the committee would release its first set of recommendations later this month.