Regents and Iowa State University president still don't understand why his use of school aircraft is a big deal
The Iowa Board of Regents met last week to discuss an internal investigation into Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s frequent use of university-owned aircraft.
Unfortunately, the regents appeared to ignore the most damning aspects of the report. Either that, or they decided to publicly portray the findings in the most flattering light possible.
The regents’ head cheerleader seemed to be Larry McKibben, who was bubbling over with praise for Leath in terms that would have made a Hollywood press agent blush.
"If we can make something that we regret, and you regret, be a better thing for the university in the future — glory hallelujah!,” he told Leath at the meeting. "And the fact that you have said what you said today really impresses me — that you are that kind of a leader that will acknowledge (what) all of us ought to do when we have these kinds of circumstances arise.”
Listening to McKibben, you’d think Leath was a champion of openness and accountability. You’d never realize it was Leath’s own conduct that was at issue; or that Leath failed to disclose critical information to the regents and to others; or that he repeatedly admitted to various transgressions only after undeniable evidence of it publicly surfaced; or that he still faults the press for exposing and then pursuing the matter.
McKibben is heaping accolades on Leath for publicly articulating his “support” for the general principles of openness, transparency and accountability — even though these are the very principles Leath has betrayed at every turn in Planegate.
In an interview late last month with the Business Record, Leath signaled that he still doesn’t get it, grousing that the media “are taking a lot of fun out” of his job.
“Some of the stuff I’m going through now is just unbelievable,” he said. “With all the great things about Iowa — and we love it here — the vicious personal attacks were unexpected … It’s a distraction for me, it takes (staff) resources, it takes time away from the things we should be doing, and it takes money. Frankly, I don’t understand it.”
You’d think Leath’s understanding would have been enhanced by the number of checks he has had to write, reimbursing the school or its foundation for his flight-related expenses.
Before the regents’ meeting, Leath had agreed to pay $17,500 for damage resulting from a “hard landing” he executed in one of the school’s planes, plus $4,600 for trips that were largely personal in nature. At Monday’s meeting, it was announced that Leath would make $19,000 in additional reimbursements related to dozens of other questionable flights, many of which were tied to pilot proficiency training and certification.
Even now, questions remain about other flights. Some of those flights were to North Carolina, where Leath owns a cabin. Some were flights for which no detailed records can be located. Some involve the transportation of firearms for hunting, which requires special permission. Some were for vaguely described “donor relations” trips to meet with unidentified individuals. And some were to locations within easy driving distance.
Then there’s the fact that the infamous “hard landing” was never reported to the school’s Office of Risk Management or to the full Board of Regents. University policy says “all losses or damage to university property must be reported to the Office of Risk Management.” Not much wiggle room there, but Leath said last week that “as the preliminary audit showed, and the comprehensive audit has now confirmed, I did not violate any policy or break any laws.”
In response to such assertions, the regents, with the notable exception of Subhash Sahai, have done little but vigorously nod their heads in agreement, slap Leath on the back and commend him for a job well done, and exclaim, “Glory hallelujah!” — an expression that can now be considered the Iowa equivalent of, "Heckuva job, Brownie."
The Board of Regents seems to be ensconced in the new, post-fact world occupied by some national politicians: a world in which facts are stood on their heads, and reality is whatever one wants it to be.
As for Leath, he can argue he is the innocent victim of “personal attacks,” but the facts — and his own checkbook — say otherwise.
Story and video: http://www.desmoinesregister.com