Leath apologizes, regents say it's time to move forward

The state Board of Regents accepted an apology from President Steven Leath Monday for "actions or decisions that may have called my integrity into question" regarding his use of university airplanes and, following a closed-door session with Leath, pledged their support of his leadership.

The Dec. 12 special board meeting dealt with a single issue: an audit of ISU flight service and university-owned airplanes (PDF), requested by the board in October. It was completed by the board's chief audit executive Todd Stewart, assisted by six internal audit staff from Iowa State and the University of Iowa.

The audit team concluded that Leath did not violate any university or board policy, but Stewart said Leath's use of university aircraft as pilot or passenger, in at least a few instances, "entered shades of gray" -- that is, may have been for personal benefit. Most, he said, were entirely business-related.

To date, Leath has reimbursed the university more than $41,000 related to his use of university planes. This includes damage to the single-engine plane ($17,500) in a summer of 2015 hard landing not reported to the office of risk management or the university's insurance carrier, local training/certification flights over the last two years ($14,575), and several flights for which the purpose was mixed personal and university business or mostly personal.

"As the preliminary audit showed, and the comprehensive audit has now confirmed, I did not violate any policy or break any laws. But that's not enough," Leath told the board in a prepared statement following Stewart's report. "I want to conduct myself beyond reproach, and I’m sorry that I did not use better judgment."

He said this experience will make him a better, more conscientious president.

Time to move forward

Leath proposed, and the board concurred, that Iowa State will sell its single-engine plane. Leath was its almost exclusive user (72 of 77 trips over two years), and he confirmed Monday his intent to no longer fly university planes. About 70 percent of those flights were for training/certification purposes to meet insurance requirements.

Leath also told board members that he has initiated a review of ISU flight service to determine whether it's a service the university should continue to offer or if other options would be better.

Board president Bruce Rastetter said it's time to move forward "to ensure the success of the institution."

"President Leath's acknowledgement that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit, and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the planes reassures this board -- and I hope all Iowans -- that the president deserves our continued trust and support," Rastetter said. "Furthermore, the board believes that the audit has put to rest any concerns about President Leath's use of the aircraft."

Rastetter called attention to Iowa State's "unprecedented heights" in scholarships, program growth, student success and alumni participation under Leath's leadership.

Policy changes ahead

The audit reviewed 10 specific aspects of purchasing, using and keeping records for the university's two planes, single engine and twin engine models. One of the more compelling findings noted that Iowa State does not have a policy governing university-owned aircraft use. Stewart's report recommended that Iowa State develop one that addresses scheduling, pilot requirements, authorized users and minimum requirements -- not just for university planes but also chartered flights and donor-provided aircraft. It should include statements about both transporting the family members or guests of authorized faculty and staff as well as limiting plane use to official university business by those authorized individuals.

The report also recommended that ISU policy be developed for:

  • Chartered aircraft use
  • Comprehensive flight logs for all university aircraft -- to include pilot(s), date(s) and times, trip legs, airports involved, miles flown, passengers, business purpose, expenses -- and requirements for retaining these flight records
  • Consistent user rates for university planes and shorter billing cycles to ensure that correct funds are recouped from internal customers
  • Periodic review of the university president's travel by the board president or executive director
  • Travel expenses that are reimbursable when the university president pursues medical care

Stewart also said that ISU administrators' requested audit of the university weapons policy, including storage and transport, would be honored after the flight service audit concludes. He said he plans to present that audit at the board's February meeting.