Leath promises tuition

Iowa State President Steven Leath in Sept. 2014.

Iowa State President Steven Leath said Wednesday he "regrets" his use of university-owned aircraft for both personal and business use because of the negative image he says it has brought to the school.

Leath's comments come after two weeks of revelations that he used two university-owned planes for the mixed use, and in one incident, caused $12,000 in damage after a hard landing at an Illinois airport in July 2015.

"I regret all of this," Leath said Wednesday during an interview with the Iowa State Daily in his office. "I don't like to bring any negative image to the university. The fact that there has been all kinds of articles written about this makes me sad."


RELATED: Full transcript of Daily interview with President Leath


The use of the the school planes has raised questions on if Leath potentially violated Iowa State policy or state law barring the use of university property for personal use. Leath's plane use was revealed following an Associated Press report on Sept. 23.

"There was no attempt the hide this," Leath said. "If you tell the [flight] tower, the FAA and your boss... I didn't think [the incident] was worthy of a press release, but probably, in hindsight, I should have told more people. But it wasn't any attempt to hide it, because I did tell a fair number of people."

Leath ultimately reimbursed the school for the use of the plane in accordance to rates set by the ISU Flight Service, he said, but his trips always included a business component.

As for the hard landing that caused about $12,000 in damage, Leath said the incident and damage "wasn't a huge deal" — comparing it to damaging a university-owned car by hitting a deer. 

"It wasn't like it was a big complicated fix, and I think that got lost in all this other stuff," Leath said. "I told flight services, they processed it just like they would any other minor damage on the plane. I told the FAA, I told the tower, I told [Iowa Board of Regents President] Bruce [Rastetter]."

Leath also said the plane sat at the Bloomington, Ill., airport for several weeks because the part that needed to be replaced was backordered.

He said that specific trip included a meeting with a "critically important" potential-donor, but it fell during the July 4 holiday. He said it was the longest vacation he's taken since becoming president in 2012, but it still included a big chunk of work time.

"Our policy allows for you to go on business trip and take personal time, but the university pays for the travel portion, not hotels or meals when you're on personal time," Leath said.

Since the trip included personal time while he flew the school's plane, he decided to reimburse for the entire trip, Leath said.

Leath has traveled to North Carolina at least four times where he has reimbursed the school.

  • March 25-29, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,212.50 (invoice sent April 7, Leath paid April 8.)
  • May 12-17, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 23, Leath paid Nov. 19.)
  • July 3-14, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,100.00 (invoice sent Nov. 18, Leath paid Nov. 19.)
  • Aug. 26-30, 2016, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 2, Leath paid Sept. 9.)

Leath also said his North Carolina cabin has been useful for hosting donors because of its location in the Appalachian Mountains. He also said he often continue to work on daily business, like answering emails and phone calls, from his cabin.

The AP reported that the rate for reimbursement may have been well under what is typically charged, but Leath said the rate he paid was set by the ISU Flight Service.

The AP reported Tuesday that Leath had taken several other trips with both personal and business components, including picking up relatives on his way to a men's basketball game in New York.

Leath said the university-pilots told him they would need to refuel before entering New York City airspace, and the stop in Elmira, New York, was about 30 minutes away from relatives, who then joined for the ride.

The plane also made a stop to refuel on the return trip, Leath said, and the relatives were dropped off.

"In hindsight, I wish they would have never gotten on the plane," Leath said. 

Iowa State offered a list of flights Leath has taken on the King Air plane:

Leath said he will meet with Student Government senators later Wednesday afternoon and attend their meeting Wednesday night to answer questions. A resolution is set to be introduced that would ask the Iowa Board of Regents to look closer Leath's use of the planes.

"I have nothing to hide here, I try to do a good job here and be open and transparent," Leath said. "The students certainly have a right to ask for that. They also need to remember that there's two sides to every story... but, I just would say they shouldn't rush to judgement."

The AP said documents posted on the Iowa State website shows the use of a second plane, flown by university pilots, cost the school tens of thousands of dollars. The documents also included destinations and who flew on the planes.

The documents were later removed, but Leath said this was because they included sensitive donor information that shouldn't have been public.

Following reporting of the plane incident, Leath cut a $15,000 check to the Iowa State Foundation for the costs of the damage.

"Nobody likes to have mean, distortions put in the press," Leath said. "I did it for the university."

After saying he would not fly any state-owned aircraft last week, he said Wednesday the incident and revelations may cause him to stop flying totally. He also said he would "probably not" buy his own personal plane.

"This could make me give up flying, which I think is sad," Leath said. 

Leath said he ultimately decided to cut the check and stop flying the university plane because he wants the negative image of the university to go away.

The Daily's Alex Connor and Emily Barske contributed to this story.

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