Leath Denies Wrongdoing in University Airplane Incident But Says He’ll Stop Flying

A Cirrus SR22, similar to the plane President Leath crash-landed last year in Illinois. Photo: Josh Beasley/Flickr

Iowa State University President Steven Leath has said he will stop flying a university-owned Cirrus SR22 single engine plane after news broke Friday that in July 2015 he crash-landed it at an Illinois airport on a return trip from North Carolina that was at least in part for personal reasons, possibly in violation of ISU policy or even state law.

But in a statement published on ISU’s website this morning, Leath denied any wrongdoing in the incident, calling suggestions he may have violated the university’s policy or the law “inaccurate allegations.” Leath also said the initial AP report was “inaccurate” in its suggestion that senior university officials were unaware of how he was using the plane – a contradiction of what a former ISU vice president who oversaw the flight program told reporter Ryan Foley when he said Leath wouldn’t have been allowed to fly the plane alone for liability reasons.

“The Offices of University Risk Management and University Counsel determined that my piloting of the Cirrus was allowed under Iowa State’s applicable insurance policies,” Leath wrote. “The Office of University Counsel also looked at issues pertaining to me reimbursing the university for portions of my travel in this aircraft. To suggest that my piloting and use of the Cirrus SR22 aircraft was not known by Board of Regents leadership and university senior business administration is inaccurate.”

At the time of the crash-landing, Leath was three weeks away from a vote on whether to renew his contract at ISU. In his statement, Leath confirmed that he eventually told Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter about the incident but didn’t clarify whether he did so before or after the vote.

“With respect to the hard landing incident, there was no attempt to hide this event from anyone,” he wrote. “When it happened, I immediately notified the airport tower and ISU Flight Service and subsequently the FAA. I later notified Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. I believe this incident would have been covered by university insurance; however, for business reasons, the claim was not submitted and the cost of the repairs was covered by non-general use funds.”

Democratic state Sen. Rob Hogg, who chairs the Senate Oversight Committee, responded to Leath’s statement by saying he was “very glad no one was injured in the plane or on the ground” and that “President Leath is now taking responsibility for the damage he caused to state-owned property and that he has promised to no longer pilot ISU-owned airplanes for personal trips.”

“However,” Hogg added, calling for a legislative review, “this plane crash and the lack of disclosure for 14 months is the latest in a series of incidents which raise significant concerns about the Board of Regents’ management of Iowa’s three public universities.”

Leath said he and his wife Janet would donate an amount equal to the costs associated with the plane’s damage to the ISU Foundation, a nonprofit that handles fundraising for the university.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.