Steven Leath speaks to innovation, integration

Steven Leath, then a finalist in ISU’s search for a new president, speaks on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011 in Morrill Hall during the presidential finalist forum. Leath previously served as vice president for research and sponsored programs for the University of North Carolina system.

Kaleb Warnock

ISU presidential candidate Steven Leath spoke about innovation and integration of the university with the community at the open forum Friday to nearly 200 people in Morrill Hall.

Leath is currently the vice president for research and sponsored programs for the University of North Carolina system and is one of the two finalists for the ISU presidential search.

“I think land-grant universities need to be far more demanding,” he said. “We’re blessed with lots of smart, talented people and we did whatever we wanted and if society wanted it, they could come take it. I don’t think that’s going to work anymore. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

Instead, he has big plans for Iowa State. Leath is going to be making changes both internally and externally — especially regarding the relationship with the Board of Regents.

“If I come here, I’m going to spend a lot of time inside making this land-grant greater than it already is because it’s a great university and we’re going to make it greater,” he said. “We need to ask, ‘What’s the right thing to do for Iowa State, and what’s the right thing to do for the state of Iowa?'”

Accordingly, he also believes Iowa State needs to look at what the states really want to do and what they need, and to find the right thing to do to solve the big problems.

However, despite his strong academic background, he thinks the solution isn’t all in research. Universities need to be more responsive to what students need.

“When the students come to us and say we’re not nimble enough, we’re not forward-thinking enough, or we’re not instituting the new degree programs they want to make an employable future, then we need to react,” he said.

Leath thinks it is important to eliminate redundancies within the curriculum and help cooperate with sister universities and overall work to be more student-centered. He also claims that schools are not being responsible and serving their students and constituents. Instead, he believes that universities need to do a better job talking outside the university and working with parents, the community and government officials.

Leath wants to make sure that students are valued and that the necessary steps are taken in order to foster successful students.

“We as a society undervalue the actual college life experience and the growth a student has on campus,” he said. “Whether it’s tolerance for LGBT issues or whether it’s student government where you’re trusted with responsibility you’ve never had before, I don’t want to see that go away.”

To Leath, it’s important for students to be able to solve the problems in the changing world. He thinks the university needs to track students better and make sure they are successful.

Despite his confident and forward-thinking goals, Leath still is willing to make tough decisions and deal with the budget crunch.

“In terms of making tough decisions, in some ways I’ve been schooled by the best,” he said. “Most of the tough decisions involved personnel or budget allocations, and because we’re in this world of limited resources, you can’t do all of the things you want to do and you can’t even fund all of the projects you want to fund. You have to make choices and you have to deliver that message.”

Overall, Leath wants to merchandise the university both abroad and in the United States to create a viable ISU brand and strengthen the sense of community.

“There has go to be a peer expectation and [students’] peers have to understand that this is what people do: They get into a public university, and they get a fantastic education at a bargain price,” he said.