FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2012, file photo, Iowa State President Steven Leath speaks during his installation ceremony in Ames, Iowa. Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law, shows Leath damaged a private plane in a hard landing in 2014, 11 months before he banged up a university aircraft in similar fashion. The Board of Regents has received the results of an audit into every flight Leath and others have taken on university planes during his presidency, and scheduled a special meeting to discuss Leath's performance. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP, File)

Editorial: Not so much up in the air



n Monday, Iowa State University President Steven Leath apologized for using ISU airplanes and resources for personal trips, which fall under “gray areas” in the university’s detailing of appropriate uses of the equipment. This comes after a state Board of Regents audit of the flights, which found statistics that do not favor the university’s president. He had reimbursed the university upwards of $22,100 for misuse and incidents involving his trips prior to the apology.

ISU had purchased a new aircraft in July 2014, a Cirrus SR22, a single-engine, four-passenger airplane. From August 2014 to September 2016, Leath was the pilot or a passenger on 72 of the 76 trips. He had reported 52 of these 72 trips as proficiency/training as the purpose for its use, according to the ISU Office of Internal Audit’s report.

Leath has been certified to fly single-engine aircraft for nearly 10 years preceding his hiring as ISU president in 2012. Though, during the return from one of his numerous trips to his North Carolina home, he caused damage to the plane upon landing. So perhaps his claims of needing proficiency/training with the plane could be valid.

Attention was brought to the president’s use of the equipment after the Associated Press informed the public of an unreported hard landing of the aircraft, which culminated in the ISU Student Government’s resolution demanding inquiry into Leath’s plane use and the regents’ request for an audit.

Of the other aircraft owned by ISU (previously a King Air 200 and now a King Air 350), Leath is only licensed to operate the Cirrus. This makes his 72 trips in one year seem more like leisurely personal interest than work. Granted, he was quick to apologize, reimburse ISU and had the university sell the plane once attention was turned to his use of the aircraft. But he still misused Iowa State property for personal reasons. Had AP never reported his misuse, he could be airborne in the aircraft at this very moment.

While the University of Iowa saw no increase of state funding for the 2016-17 academic year, arguably resulting in yet another tuition hike, the regents sought to approve $8.2 million in allocations for ISU. While ISU administration seems so keen on squandering state resources, the UI tightens its belt another notch.

That said, the UI has not exactly been the most adept at fiscal management. Kinnick Stadium will receive a $90 million seating renovation over the next three years. This will be paid for with private donations and not state funding, which is more than likely the reason for the regents’ unanimous approval of the project.

There is always a lot of money being kicked around in higher education across the state. But more often than not, none of this money is utilized to alleviate the increasing student-debt load. While administrators jet-set across the nation, the average student debt for UI and ISU students upon graduation sits at nearly $29,000. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board thinks that there is something off about that.

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