Report: Regent Wasn’t Told About Leath Plane Incident, Contrary to Claims of Transparency

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A report in Tuesday’s Ames Tribune adds another contradiction to the varying accounts of who was told about Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s crash-landing of a state-owned plane at the tail end of an 11-day vacation to North Carolina in the summer of 2015, and when they were told.

“I reported it to flight services here at the university, I reported it to the tower, I reported it to the FAA and then I reported it to the regents,” Leath told Trib reporter Austin Harrington during an interview Monday evening. Harrington decided to fact-check the statement, requesting comment from members of the Board of Regents.

He only heard back from one: Subhash Sahai, a Webster City physician. “I was disappointed to hear about this incident because the first time I heard about this incident was on Thursday or Friday,” Sahai told the paper. “I was disappointed that he was flying the plane, that we were never informed of that and that it was a plane that belonged to ISU.”

After AP reporter Ryan Foley broke the news of the incident Friday, ISU went into damage-control mode, eventually releasing a long statement from Leath himself, who denied violating university policy or a state law prohibiting the use of state-owned property “for any private purpose or for personal gain to the detriment of the state.” Leath added, “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.”

That contradicted what Warren Madden, ISU’s recently retired senior vice president for business and finance who oversaw the school’s flight program, told Foley. Madden said Leath wouldn’t have been allowed to fly the plane alone because of university policy and liability concerns, apparently unaware he’d done just that before Foley told him.

In his statement, Leath also wrote, “With respect to the hard landing incident, there was no attempt to hide this event from anyone.”

Sahai and Madden aside, Leath revealed to the Trib that he didn’t tell Regents President Bruce Rastetter about the incident until four or five weeks after it occurred – which would have been at least a week after a vote on Leath’s contract renewal. Update: And, according to Regents spokesman Josh Lehman, Rastetter wasn’t aware of it until that fall.

“Bruce and I meet regularly on updates but we don’t meet like weekly,” Leath told the paper. “So next time I got with him, I said, ‘Bruce, you probably ought to know this.'”


Correction: This post initially said Sahai was the board’s sole Democrat. That’s Katie Mulholland; he’s an independent.

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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.