When Auburn University approached Steven Leath about becoming president at the Alabama university, he begged off at first.
As he told the Business Record in an interview last year, Leath told the recruiters that he had bought a retirement home in north-central Iowa, loved his role at Iowa State University and had no plans to leave. "I love Iowa State, and the Iowa State students, faculty, staff and Cyclone family are wonderful; I am not looking to leave," Leath told recruiters.
But shortly after the Auburn trustees voted to hire him Monday morning, Leath and his wife, Janet, issued a letter to the ISU community indicating, "We now realize our destiny is in Alabama and leading one of the nation's great land-grant universities to even greater prominence."
Leath had led a five-year growth spurt at ISU, which overtook the University of Iowa as the state's largest university, with 36,660 students (Auburn, another land grant school, is about 28,000). He helped build a nationally prominent basketball program and oversaw a large expansion of the ISU Research Park along with a dedicated effort to tie ISU more closely to economic development efforts. But he also faced controversies over racism and sexual assaults on campus, the end of the long-time, violence-marred VEISHEA festival, his use of university planes and the land deal for his retirement home, which was aided by his boss on the Board of Regents.
He took the high road in his official comments today.
"I leave with a promise fulfilled, and that was to leave the university better than I inherited it," Leath wrote. "I leave with Iowa State achieving record enrollment, retention rates, graduation rates, job placement rates as well as records in fundraising and research funding, and numerous other metrics. I am proud of the many accomplishments that we achieved in economic development and community engagement."
"Janet and I have made lifelong friends here in Iowa and have had many great experiences," Leath said in the statement. "We will always consider ourselves Cyclones and have great affection for this university and its beautiful campus; it is a very special place. Our appreciation for the Cyclone family is beyond words, and we found this extended family of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to be the greatest joy of our time at Iowa State."
The Leath-to-Auburn story was broken by reporters Jim Little and Cynthia Williford of the Opelika-Auburn News, which last weekend cited unnamed sources as saying Leath's land-grant and agricultural street cred had made him a stop candidate for the job.
Leath, who takes the new job July 15, looked back at his five years as ISU president in the Business Record interview.