ISU Student Leaders Call on Branstad-Stacked Board of Regents to Investigate Leath As Governor Dismisses Controversy

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On Wednesday, Iowa Board of Regents Executive Director Bob Donley announced his plan to conduct a “compliance review of policies regarding use of equipment and travel at each of the three Regent universities” in light of the news that Iowa State University President Steven Leath used the university’s two airplanes in possible violation of school policy, state law, and IRS regulations.

Meanwhile, by a 23-4 vote, ISU’s Student Government passed a resolution (embedded below) requesting that the board have an independent inquiry conducted specifically into Leath’s plane use, despite his plea that the board had “limited resources and time to spend on something like this,” according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, paraphrasing ISU’s president.

But it’s unlikely that the board, which has been plagued by cronyism and backroom dealings during the tenure of current President Bruce Rastetter, will take any serious disciplinary action. Rastetter has already downplayed the airplane revelations and is also tied to another Leath controversy because he orchestrated a private land deal with the ISU president through his company, Summit Agricultural Group, in possible violation of the board’s conflict-of-interest policy.

Some Democratic state lawmakers, including Cedar Rapids Sen. Rob Hogg and Ames Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, support an investigation into Leath’s activities. However, according to a recent report in the Ames Tribune, Gov. Terry Branstad believes Leath has taken sufficient “corrective action” by donating $15,000 to the Iowa State University Foundation and promising to no longer fly state-owned planes.

Branstad also reportedly “said he opposes further review of the incident or of other university travel policies by the Legislature, saying he wants to keep the Board of Regents separate from politics” – this coming from the man who appointed Rastetter, a Branstad donor, to a Board of Regents stacked with the governor’s political allies (and just one Democrat among its nine members) after Rastetter convinced Branstad to run for governor again in 2009.

The board has ethical issues of its own beyond that, including that Donley, the board director who announced the compliance review of university travel policies, took advantage of loopholes to earn more than double his salary cap in 2015.

“[Board of Regents Chief Audit Executive Todd] Stewart and I agreed on the scope in which they [the universities] will review the policies to ensure they are clear and consistent, and that policies and state law were followed,” Donley announced in his statement yesterday. “They also will certify that existing internal controls are adequate and appropriate.

“After the compliance review is complete, findings will be publicly shared with the Board. I have asked Mr. Stewart to present an update on the progress of his review at the October Board meeting,” which is scheduled on Oct. 19-20 at the University of Northern Iowa.

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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.