Iowa State presidential candidates speak to Board of Regents

Kaleb Warnock and Paige Godden

The Iowa Board of Regents spent Tuesday at Iowa State University discussing two candidates for the university’s president.

At 10:30 a.m., the regents heard from candidate Steven Leath, director of research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In his opening statement Leath said he would be a “new leader,” someone who is focused on innovation, which is essential in the current financial situation.

Leath said he is ready to speak for the university, but said he wouldn’t be ready without the help of the students.

“I was so excited to meet with the students and see what type of students [Iowa State] recruit[s] and what they’re capable of,” Leath said. “That makes me even more excited to be the Iowa State champion, to tell about Iowa State — not just in Iowa, but all over.”

Leath cited his extensive experience at land-grant institutions, and, being a Nebraska native, said this would make him prepared for the position if chosen to take over.

“I want to be here because the leadership before me has accomplished a great amount, but at the same time, Iowa State is poised for something big, and I want to be a part of that,” he said.

When asked about his involvement in fundraising, Leath stated that he was ready to commit the time and energy the university will need in difficult times. He continually cited his extensive experience and connections he had made through his efforts and that fundraising “is not about asking for money; this is about relationships.”

Janet Leath, Steven’s wife, also is an avid fundraiser. Leath invited her to answer questions regarding fundraising, and she discussed her own experience in the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation. As a key actor in the trust, Janet raised a record amount to re-introduce elk to the northern part of North Carolina. For the Leaths, fundraising is second nature.

“It’s fun. It’s not a chore that we do, it’s something that we enjoy doing,” he said.

Then, at 12:30 p.m., the Board interviewed candidate Kumble Subbaswamy.

Subbaswamy, provost for the University of Kentucky, said his past experiences made him a good fit for the university presidency.

“Setting modesty aside, I’m proud to say I’m well-liked wherever I work,” Subbaswamy said.

He said he has a passion for education and research in the service of society.

“I have a demonstrated record of student success in all my positions,” Subbaswamy said.

He said during his time at the University of Kentucky, he has helped raise external awards by 30 percent.

Subbaswamy said he was born in India and came to the United States with $8 in his pocket and a $500 loan for his plane ticket.

He said he had a lot of help from generous mentors.

“I started down a traditional faculty path doing research and professional service,” Subbaswamy said.

He said he believed in the collective success of entire departments, which has led him to leadership roles in the past.

“Research for the sake of research is certainly one thing but … research is the conversion of dollars into knowledge. Innovation is turning knowledge into dollars,” Subbaswamy said. “That’s why I think land-grant institutions are one of the best inventions the nation has set up.”

Subbaswamy added that he was told a university is home to some of the smartest people on the planet, but also home to some of the most opinionated people.

“That’s where leadership comes in, to do the collective work,” Subbaswamy said.

He said some universities aren’t going to make it through the challenging financial times ahead, but he believed he could lead Iowa State to the top.

At 4 p.m. regents president Craig Lang announced Leath will be the next president of Iowa State.