Research Campus co-founder picked for Iowa job

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

AMES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Board of Regents on Tuesday chose University of North Carolina Vice President for Research Steven Leath to be the president of Iowa State University.
The regents made their unanimous decision at a meeting at the Ames campus after meeting with Leath and the other finalist, Kumble Subbaswamy, provost at the University of Kentucky.
Leath, one of the founding fathers of the N.C. Research Campus, worked with others to come up with the academic blueprint for the biotech complex in downtown Kannapolis. Leath initially oversaw N.C. State’s participation in the campus. Then UNC President Erskine Bowles tapped him to supervise the UNC system’s development at the life sciences hub.
Close friends with campus founder and billionaire Dole Food chairman David Murdock, Leath serves as president of the board of directors for the David H. Murdock Research Institute, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the campus centerpiece Core Laboratory Building. Leath has split his time between Kannapolis and Raleigh for several years.
In Iowa, Leath will replace current Iowa State President Gregory Geoffrey, who has announced he will retire next year after serving as president since 2001.
Leath will become the 15th president in Iowa State history. He will begin working at Iowa State on Feb. 1 and will be paid $440,000 annually. His initial term will be for three years.
“My first priority is to get to know the faculty and students,” Leath said after his hiring was announced.
Regents President Craig Lang said Leath “has a proven record of successful fundraising as well as a strong background in research.”
The regents interviewed both finalists, then debated their decision privately for much of the afternoon.
“Both of them had strengths and weaknesses,” Lang said.
At his introduction, Leath said he’s already begun to get to know the campus.
“I’ve already met student leaders and staff leaders and faculty leadership,” said Leath. While raising money and developing political support for the school is important, Leath said his initial focus would be on the campus itself.
“I’ll make sure there’s time for students, faculty and staff,” he said.
Lang said he’s made it clear since he joined the Board of Regents that selecting a new ISU president was the biggest chore facing the board after Geoffrey announced his retirement plans.
“The world is waiting. What we looked for was a vision for the entire state of Iowa and where Iowa State University fits,” Lang said.
Leath offered no specific proposals he’ll push, saying he wants to listen initially to the needs of the campus.
“I want to take a lot of input initially to make sure we get things right,” Leath said. “The biggest challenge I see is we have many talented Iowans who want to go to Iowa State and we want to provide access to them.”
Leath said he would work closely with Geoffrey during the transition. Gesturing toward Geoffrey, he said, “I will need your help.”
He takes the top job at the University during a time of big budget troubles where funding for higher education has been slashed.
“Affordability and accessibility are something the faculty is concerned about and it’s something I’m concerned about. It will be a busy start,” he said.
In addition to his salary, Leath will get deferred compensation that could total $75,000 a year. He also is provided housing.