Iowa State students react to Leath leaving


Tyler Coffey/Iowa State Daily

Student Body President Cole Staudt shakes University President Steven Leath’s hand before Leath’s annual address in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union on Sep 14, 2016.

Emily Barske

During the traditional pancake serving on Central Campus during his freshman year Homecoming, Cody West was starstruck when he saw President Steven Leath serving pancakes — he took a photo with him and introduced himself.

West, who is now the Student Government president-elect, realized Leath was just a person, too. 

“In every interaction that [Student Body President Cole Staudt] and I have had with him, he’s been very sincere,” West said, adding that Leath really values student input — which is something Leath echoed in his press conference after being named Auburn’s president.

“I want to make it clear that the university is really about the people. Auburn has great students and highly dedicated staff. We’re not going to do anything to diminish that. At the same time, we’re going to push forward,” Leath said.

But not all students have felt that Leath was sincere.

“A lot of students have this negative connotation about him, but he really does care about what the students think. … I hate that misconception students have, but it’s also understandable with the way that transparency and everything works,” West said.

Earlier this year, Student Government passed a resolution asking the Iowa Board of Regents to formally look into President Steven Leath’s past and current use of the university aircraft after inquiries surrounding his use of university-owned aircraft for both personal and business use. 

Since conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion sparked after the ripping of a poster at the Trump rally outside the Cy-Hawk game in 2015, some students have called on Leath to do a better job of making the campus inclusive.

After the election of President Donald Trump in November, students marched to Leath’s office, asking him to disavow Trump. Recently, a student staged a walkout of Leath’s ISCORE speech, after calling him a racist. 

“He was merely a symptom of the much larger problem of colorblind, supposedly race-neutral, racism here at Iowa State,” said Wesley Harris Jr., graduate student in higher education administration.  

Staudt — who was somewhat surprised by the news — said that it’s important that students look at Leath’s time at Iowa State in a holistic manner.

“I’m grateful for what he’s done for me and the university,” Staudt said. “There have been some hiccups during his term, but overall he’s shepherded Iowa State through an unprecedented amount of enrollment growth … he completely revamped our research portfolio and raised more money than any president in Iowa State’s history.”

Moving forward

West said it came as a shock to him when he saw the initial report from the Daily on Saturday that Leath was on a short list of potential candidates for the presidency at Auburn University. He found it surprising because Leath had recently bought farmland here, and Leath had a few years left in his contract.

“For him, it’s a good career move,” Staudt said.

West added that Auburn is very comparable to Iowa State. Auburn is also a land-grant institution.

Madison Sogge, a senior in finance who works as a student assistant in the president’s office, said she is sad that Leath is leaving, but said this will be a new, fresh start for Iowa State and him. 

Sogge and Staudt both said that one top focus of the new president will need to be diversity and inclusion. West and Sogge also mentioned the need for a transparent president.

“I also think that he needs to be able to work with donors a lot,” Sogge said about the new president. “Funding is a huge part of the university that I don’t think students actually see how much outreach Leath has to do.”

Both West and Staudt hope that the search process is open, transparent and involves the students.

“I sincerely hope the Iowa Board of Regents is more transparent with the search for Iowa State University’s next president than they were with University of Iowa’s.”

West added that he hopes the search won’t take place over the summer while many students are away.

“We really do wish him the best of luck at Auburn, and I think he’ll do great there, but we’re more than happy and receptive to change at Iowa State, too,” West said.

Tweet reactions

Some students also expressed sentiment wanting a transparent search process.

Some students felt that Leath’s decision to leave was justified and are sad to see him go. 

Some students are excited for new leadership and happy to see Leath go.

Students didn’t forget that Leath cancelled Veishea in 2014. 

Some students are even throwing out some famous names for the new president — such as Barack Obama and Deonte Burton — and others are asking where they can apply.

The Daily’s Alex Connor and Nik Heftman contributed reporting to this article.