Ben Allen looks ahead to transition into new presidency and return to retirement


Iowa State interim president, Ben Allen, addresses the Student Government Senate on Aug. 23, 2017 in the Pioneer Room in the Memorial Union.

Danielle Gehr

Interim-President Ben Allen said, with the selection of the new president, his new role is whatever they want him to do. 

Allen predicts he will remain at Iowa State for just a few more months before returning to retirement. His plans of train rides through Europe, a possible safari and much needed time with his family in St. Louis will continue to be put on hold as he helps the new president adjust to Iowa State’s campus.

Allen has served as interim president for the past six months, taking over May 9 after current-Auburn University President Steven Leath announced his resignation in March.

“One, it’s an honor to be asked, so it’s almost like you do it as service. I think I’ve said before publicly, the biggest opportunity cost is not being with my grandkids, my daughter, her family,” Allen said. “But it wasn’t a difficult choice in terms. I knew that this would be a good place to be for a short period of time.”

Allen worked at Iowa State for more than 27 years before leaving to be president of the University of Northern Iowa.

During his time at Iowa State, Allen held numerous positions including many other interim roles. Allen jokes that he can’t keep a job. 

He said both he and his wife have enjoyed being back, though the nostalgia was met with some difficult decisions. 

One of the first decisions Allen made as interim president was to propose a raised tuition rate. The recommendation includes 7 percent increases for in-state students and 4 percent tuition increases over the next five years. 

Allen has said the tuition increases are to make up $30 million cuts in state appropriations to Iowa’s three regent institutions.

“The interim is not a passive type of position. You have to keep making decisions. It didn’t take too long to realize you have no option. You have to keep making decisions,” Allen said. 

On top of tuition raises, Allen decided there would be no across-the-board salary increase for faculty and staff. There were only raises for performance and market adjustments, but Allen said those raises still were not much. 

“Faculty and staff, they work hard here. They’ve been under pressure because of the growth in population, so that was a tough decision,” Allen said. “With how hard people work here, it didn’t seem fair, but I didn’t think it’d be fair to take money from the students in that particular case.”

Allen said when people retire, they get into a different type of pattern of not having to make decisions and not having to watch what they say. He said his wife noticed a change in his voice after taking on the position. 

Allen said the student leaders have always been a great help to him, speaking of both his time at University of Northern Iowa and his transition back into Iowa State. He said the advice from the student leaders was consistently better than anyone else. 

“The student leaders are pretty frank about what they believe and they give good advice,” Allen said. “I still stay in contact with many of the student body presidents from UNI because you do work closely with them.”

As interim, Allen said the hardest part is making choices on what he should make decisions on and what he should leave to the next president. 

Allen said he wants to take certain decisions off the next presidents hands, so they aren’t burdened with too many, but there are certain decisions he cannot make for the president.

“My charge here was to position the university best I could so that the next president would be successful.”

Some key decisions awaiting the new president is appointing the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, a vice president of extension and outreach and a vice president of human resources.

When Allen first arrived, there was an attempted search for a vice president of human resources which ended without appointing the position.

When Miles Lackey leaves at the end of the year, a new chief financial officer and chief of staff will be needed as well.

Allen said he will likely be gone before Lackey’s last day, though it depends on how the transition goes. 

After he leaves Iowa State, Allen will head back to St. Louis to be with his daughter and her children. He is looking forward to traveling with a trans-Siberian train ride and a safari in Africa in mind — the safari, he said, is all his wife’s idea. 

“I have enjoyed [my time back here] tremendously. My wife has enjoyed it,” Allen said. “We got to come back to a place where we spent 27 plus years and get reacquainted with old friends.”