Leath: Think big, innovate, be bold

Leath on stage, flanked by Provost Jonathan Wickert and Agricult

Leath shares his vision for Iowa State in his installation address. Photos by Bob Elbert.

President Steven Leath Sept. 14 announced a goal to raise $150 million in private gifts for student financial aid over the next five years.

Leath unveiled the goal in his presidential installation address: “Educate. Innovate. Achieve!” Leath, who assumed the leadership post last January, was installed as Iowa State’s 15th president in a ceremony at Stephens Auditorium.

In his installation remarks, Leath noted the generosity of Iowa State alumni and friends who pledged gifts for student scholarships in the most recent comprehensive fundraising campaign, which concluded in 2011.

“We as institutions have to do more to provide funding to help students pay for their education,” Leath said in his address.

The call for additional private funding for financial aid is part of Leath’s first priority: To insure that Iowa State continues to provide a high-quality educational experience. He noted that Iowa State is known as a caring university, one that is committed to helping students achieve their goals before and after graduation.

“My first priority is to continue to be true to this brand and this culture, and to continue improving our retention, graduation and placement rates, which means keeping the academic and student service programs strong,” Leath said. “But just as important, we must be accessible. And being accessible means being affordable.”

Measures to curb student debt

To address the problem of growing student debt, Leath announced a four-part plan:

  • Hold down costs by continuing efforts to run the university more efficiently. He pledged support for the proposal before the Board of Regents to freeze tuition next year for resident undergraduate students, and he said student fees would not be increased next year. Student fees support such benefits as reduced rates for concerts and athletic events, free use of the CyRide bus system and recreation facilities.
  • Provide better financial counseling for students and families. Iowa State is providing more information to students about their existing debt and what it will be after graduation.
  • Be more creative in helping students find lower-cost paths to a four-year degree. More students are coming to Iowa State having already earned college credits, and 20 percent of new students are transfers from community colleges.
  • Maximize revenue streams other than tuition to support academic programs. The state’s share of support for Iowa’s three public universities has dropped nearly 50 percent over the last 30 years. Leath thanked Gov. Terry Branstad, the Legislature and the Board of Regents for reversing that trend this fiscal year.
President Leath and Board of Regents President Craig Lang

ISU President Steven Leath and Regents President Craig Lang share a good-humored moment on stage. 

Partner with others

Leath said another major priority for his administration will be developing partnerships.

“I want Iowa State University to be known as the ‘partnership university.’ More than that, I want us to be known as the university that gets it right when it comes to partnering with others,” Leath said. “One size does not fit all. We need to listen; we need to be more demand-driven in developing our programs and services.”

He noted this applies in particular to the university’s role in Iowa’s economic development. He applauded existing Iowa State programs that are devoted to strengthening business and industry, but said he wants to initiate a more integrated approach that maximizes the university’s potential.

“I have asked members of my senior leadership team to develop an economic development framework that will better assist Iowa companies and communities to prosper and grow,” Leath said. “Efforts will concentrate on the three state focus industries of biosciences, advanced manufacturing and information technology.”

Economic development to assist Iowa companies, communities

He listed four specific objectives:

  • Leverage the strengths of Iowa State Extension and Outreach, research and economic development and the colleges
  • Build upon existing partnerships
  • Serve Iowans better by making it easier and more friendly for companies to do business with Iowa State
  • Significantly expand the Iowa State Research Park

Leath, who was directly involved with research-based economic development in North Carolina, said the state of Iowa has taken positive steps, but more effort is needed.

“We are in a competition, and we need to ramp up our efforts – and I intend for Iowa State University to take a leadership role,” Leath said.

One important role for Iowa State, he said, is to expand faculty expertise in areas that are critical to Iowa’s economic future, such as the biological sciences, agriculture, physical sciences and engineering.

He announced that senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert and the college deans will seek to add 200 faculty positions in these key areas over the next 18 to 24 months. Many of the new faculty, he said, will fill new positions and some will fill vacant positions. He emphasized faculty positions would not be decreased in other disciplines to meet this goal.

Research park expansion

As part of his emphasis on partnerships and economic development, Leath announced that the research park now reports to his office. The Research Park previously reported to the VP for Research and Economic Development. Leath said he envisions the park becoming the “north anchor” for the Capital Corridor project, which seeks to further develop the Ames-Des Moines region.

Other initiatives

In his installation address, Leath also announced initiatives to:

  • Make available up to $1.5 million per year for three years for up to three interdisciplinary research projects selected through evaluation and competition. The intent is to encourage and expand research efforts.
  • Expand the number of graduate students to support research
  • Enhance campus beautification, including the Iowa State Center grounds, and further invest in University Museums and Reiman Gardens; Leath noted that first lady Janet Leath is actively engaged in this effort.
  • Promote diversity on campus by supporting several recommendations proposed by the University Committee on Women and other key groups, and also by partnering with King and Moulton Elementary Schools in Des Moines to help increase the number of lower income and minority students enrolling at Iowa State
  • Promote a healthier and more productive lifestyle for faculty and staff; human resources services is developing a plan, which will be implemented next spring
Student chats with Leath at the installation reception

A student chats with the president at the installation reception. 

Commitment to arts, humanities, social sciences remains strong

Leath told his installation audience that the emphasis on the physical sciences, engineering and economic development would not diminish Iowa State’s commitment to the arts, humanities and social sciences.

“These programs will continue to play a vital role in the broad education and complete learning experience of our students, as well as in the delightfully eclectic character of this university and community,” he said.