IOWA CITY, Iowa ― Iowa State University’s governing board ordered an audit Thursday of every flight President Steven Leath has taken on school airplanes, and its leader said some of the trips appear “questionable at best.”
In a rare rebuke of an ally, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said during a meeting at the University of Northern Iowa that he was extremely disappointed in Leath’s potential misuse of the planes and that “additional action is warranted.”
Rastetter called Leath a successful president during his five-year tenure but said regents must “ensure that our universities are run in a manner that the people of Iowa expect and demand.”
The board’s audit committee voted to order its internal auditor to review flights Leath has taken on two planes owned by Iowa State. Rastetter said the report must be detailed and answer all questions the public has about Leath’s trips.
A pilot, Leath has faced criticism since The Associated Press revealed that he damaged a university plane in a hard landing while flying home from a vacation in North Carolina in July 2015.
Leath used his discretion to purchase the plane for $498,000 with donations in 2014. He then obtained his instrument rating to fly the plane himself under the instruction of Jim Kurtenbach, who was appointed to a high-paying job as university vice president without a search. Leath has acknowledged flying it on four largely personal trips to Jefferson, North Carolina, where he owns a mountain home, and reimbursing the school for some costs.
Records show Leath has also been flown by university pilots on ISU’s larger plane to and from North Carolina on several occasions. He has traveled on that plane with his best friend and a professional bowhunter, to his alma mater to receive an alumni award, and to an NCAA basketball tournament game with his brother and sister-in-law.
Leath has denied violating policies or a law that bars the use of state equipment for private purposes. He has said that every trip had business justification, such as a four-hour meeting with a potential donor during his 11-day vacation. But he has vowed to stop flying himself and made a $17,500 donation to cover the accident costs.
Regent Subhash Sahai has complained that Leath never told the board about the hard landing in which the plane’s wings were damaged. Weeks after the accident, the board extended Leath’s contract through 2020. Leath has said that he told Rastetter at some point about what happened but that information wasn’t passed on.
Rastetter’s criticism of Leath is noteworthy because the two have enjoyed a cozy relationship. Leath has acknowledged that he and Rastetter worked together to purchase $1.1 million of land last year so Leath’s family could build a home in Iowa. The plot was larger than Leath wanted, so the two divided it, with Rastetter’s agricultural company keeping the farmland.