Looking back over the past week it still strikes me as exceedingly odd that Iowa State University President Steven Leath is the only person — as far as I can tell — who has given Regents President Bruce Rastetter even the teensiest alibi against the charge that Rastetter rigged the election of President-elect J. Bruce Harreld at the University of Iowa. It makes sense that the governor would keep his distance, given that part of Rastetter’s role as a political fixer is to be a disposable firewall, and it makes sense that acting Iowa President Jean Robillard would want to keep his options open in case he has to turn on Rastetter to save his own skin, but still — nobody else?
While the motive for Leath’s odd defense of Rastetter isn’t clear, it’s important to note that any implied equivalence between Leath and Harreld is unintended. Where Harreld is completely unqualified to be the president of any educational institution, Leath is not simply qualified, by all accounts he was an excellent hire by the Board of Regents in January of 2012. Admittedly, until a couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of Leath’s name in my life, and if you had asked me to name any current or former president of that fine institution I couldn’t have done so. In looking into Leath’s background, however, it’s not merely impressive, it’s absolutely shocking how qualified he is when compared to the carpetbagging dilettante that the Board of Regents is now foisting on the University of Iowa.
From the ISU website:
From 2007 to 2012, Dr. Leath was Vice President for Research for the University of North Carolina (UNC) General Administration, where he oversaw $1.4 billion in competitive research grants and contracts and promoted research and sponsored programs across the full spectrum of academic disciplines and interdisciplinary activities carried out by UNC’s 16 university campuses. He also oversaw UNC’s inter-institutional centers and was one of the leaders in such highly successful public-private partnerships as the North Carolina Research Campus and the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which he helped establish and led as chief executive officer. He also had active roles in the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus and the Research Triangle Park.
During his research career, Dr. Leath published nearly 100 scientific articles in plant disease resistance, plant pathology, plant breeding, and related fields.
Wow! And we got this guy?
How is it that only three years ago the Iowa Board of Regents managed to choose an eminently qualified academician with long administrative experience at an institution of higher learning to head Iowa State University, but now, in choosing the new president at the University of Iowa, they passed over three eminently qualified academicians with long administrative experience at institutions of higher learning in order to choose a guy who can’t tell the truth, who takes credit for other people’s work, and who can’t spell?
The answer is that the board which elected the fully qualified Leath is not the board that elected the utterly unqualified Harreld. In fact, between Leath’s hire in January of 2012 and Harreld’s hire in September of 2015, only two board members remain of the nine who hired Leath. Those members are Regents President Bruce Rastetter, and Regent Katie Mulholland, who famously uttered this defense of the improper special treatment given to J. Bruce Harreld during the hiring process:
“I don’t think that we knew any more about (Harreld) based on (those meetings) than we did about the other candidates based on their curriculum vitae, which were extensive,” Mulholland said.
To that toxic core of two, seven new regents have been added in the past two and a half years. Because each regent serves a six year term, those seven will remain in office for another three and a half years, minimum. (The terms of Rastetter and Mulholland expire in a year and a half, assuming they aren’t reappointed.)
It’s also interesting that at the same time when Governor Branstad was packing the regents with new appointees, the regents were also refusing to give University of Iowa President Sally Mason a new contract, while simultaneously going back on their own word about the length of contracts that would be offered to presidents at the state’s schools:
The question about Mason working at will was raised last week when the board awarded a five-year contract to Iowa State University President Steven Leath, who also received a 7.123 percent raise to $500,000. Mason received a 2.5 percent boost in salary to $525,828 but was not offered a contract. William Ruud, who just completed his first year as president of the University of Northern Iowa, is currently on a three-year contract and received a 2.5 percent raise, bringing his salary to $348,400.
The board awarded the salaries following performance evaluations of the three state university presidents. The raises go into effect July 1.
After granting Mason a 4 percent raise last summer but no new contract, regents leaders said the board did not intend to offer university presidents contract extensions beyond an initial three-year term. Leath has led ISU since January 2012 on a three-year contract.
Yep, that’s your Iowa Board of Regents. So desperate to have a lapdog at Iowa that they actually froze out the previous president, went back on their word, then committed a fraudulent hire.
Again, I know absolutely nothing about Leath, and I have no idea why he threw a feeble alibi to a political shark, but honestly, Leath has my sympathies. Whatever else he thought he was getting when he took the ISU job, he ended up with Rastetter chained up just across the street, and I’m guessing that’s not a lot of fun.
The agribusiness owned by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter was awarded $480,000 in no-interest loans from an Iowa State University center a few months after he joined the school’s governing board, records show. The loans from the Iowa Energy Center helped Summit Farms LLC finance the $990,000 cost of installing wind turbines at its corporate office and two hog confinements.
The worst I can say about Leath is that he’s doing a good job advocating for his own school, and after sizing up Harreld at their celebrated dinner I’m guessing he’s licking his chops at the prospect of getting his hands on a big chunk of the U. of I. budget in the coming years. So good for him. Well played.
— Mark Barrett