Iowa State President Steven Leath said Friday that Chief Information Officer Jim Kurtenbach served as his flight instructor starting in October 2014, helping him earn his Instrument Flight Rules certification.
Leath told the Iowa State Daily in an interview Friday morning that Kurtenbach began flight lessons with him in late 2014, before he was announced as interim CIO in November. Leath said the timing worked nicely because they could fly over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
Leath has faced questions after revelations that he used two university-owned aircraft for both personal and business use. In a July 2015 trip, Leath made a hard landing at an Illinois airport resulting in $12,000 in damages.
Leath said the lessons ended on either Jan. 10 or Jan. 12, 2015, after Kurtenbach, who previously worked at the Ames-based tech company Workiva, was hired as interim CIO. At the time, Kurtenbach and the IT department reported to Provost Jonathan Wickert.
"The Provost started talking to Jim [Kurtenbach] in early October, when Jim Davis announced his retirement, about coming back to the university in an interim [CIO IT] position," Leath said. "During those discussions, Jim [Kurtenbach] realized he was going to come back and have some flexibility in the fall.
"And [he] asked me if we wanted to fly together and that [he] might be able to help me finish up the IFR training," Leath said.
Kurtenbach was named interim CIO in Nov. 20, 2014, and the new role officially began on Jan. 1, 2015. Kurtenbach began at Iowa State in 1991 as a professor and was the associate dean in the College of Engineering from 2010 to 2013.
However, Leath said that because Kurtenbach would be coming back to a full-time Iowa State position, they came to the conclusion that Kurtenbach probably shouldn't be his flight instructor once he returned.
"So he came back, [and his] first day in the office I believe was Jan. 4, in the interim CIO role," Leath said. "I took my last lesson with him about [Jan. 10] and have not taken another lesson with him ever since.
"I took lessons through him for less than 90 days."
Kurtenbach is licensed as a flight instructor for "airplane single and multiengine instrument airplane" and has been a licensed pilot since 2005. Leath was most recently issued his private pilot's license on Jan. 14, 2015, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.
There have also been questions about Kurtenbach being hired into a permanent CIO position without a formal job search by the university. Iowa State announced Kurtenbach would have the "interim" removed from his title on March 24, 2016, and the permanent position began July 1, 2016.
Leath said that at the time of the hiring and lessons, the interim CIO position did not report to him and that he wasn't involved in the negotiations to bring him back to Iowa State.
After the restructuring of administration earlier this year, Kurtenbach and his department now report to Leath. Kurtenbach is in charge of searching for and implementing a new enterprise resource planning system, which is software that will affect many university stakeholders.
The university's switch to a new cloud-based ERP system will cost the university an estimated $25 to $40 million that Leath said will bring improvements to Iowa State in areas including storage and security.
"It's the biggest fundamental change in our administrative area in more than 20 years," Leath said. "I felt that needed to report directly to me because it affects everything from student life to finances to everything we do."
The Daily's Alex Hanson contributed to this story.