Monday morning, in a decision that has understandably received criticism, the board unanimously voted Iowa State President Steven Leath to replace retiring Auburn University President Jay Gogue.
Leath’s tenure at Iowa State hasn’t been without controversy.
As president there, he was subject to a six-week investigation of his use of Iowa State’s planes for his personal use.
After the Associated Press publicized the story of Leath damaging an ISU plane during a hard landing, all university flight records were removed from the university website. For both moral and practical reasons, institutions when under fire should opt for honest and open communication; sweeping controversy under the rug hurts organizations more in the long run.
Ultimately, he was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he ended up reimbursing Iowa State for his flights.
Another controversy involved Leath appointing his flight instructor to a salaried position of $250,000 without performing a proper search, which brings up questions of professionalism and ethics.
Now, he’s coming to The Plains.
While at ISU, Leath oversaw an increase in student enrollment with fall 2016 having a record enrollment of 36,660. A man with extensive land-grant university experience, we sincerely hope his time here at Auburn marks a successful streak of growth for the University.
However, we are also reasonably skeptical of him because of the conditions surrounding his appointment and his track record.
We believe the decision process should have been more transparent. As students of Auburn University, and consequently people who pay the president’s salary, we should’ve been made more aware of the decision process.
We weren’t informed of any kind of shortlist of candidates; therefore, we weren’t kept aware of whether that shortlist promised a diverse and qualified pool of candidates.
Leath and Raymond Harbert, the Birmingham businessman who chaired the 14-member presidential search committee, argued that transparency would’ve been ideal, but it wasn’t practical because informing the public of Leath’s consideration would’ve put him in a sore spot with Iowa State University.
Leath argued it would’ve potentially demoralized ISU as it trudges through March Madness.
The board described the lack of transparency surrounding Leath’s appointment as a mark of professionalism.
Convenience should not be conflated with professionalism.
While it’s important to prevent his current university from feeling demoralized and to keep the decision process straightforward, we believe the good of keeping Auburn students and faculty informed of our next potential president outweighs any negative consequences.
Sure, it’s less convenient for Leath personally, but Leath’s personal convenience shouldn’t take precedence over the need for Auburn students and faculty to have greater influence in deciding who their next University president is.
Furthermore, showing students and faculty you’re willing to be criticized as a candidate before you potentially lead them is the best way to show them respect and a willingness to be connected; having your appointment announced in the Student Center doesn’t quite amount to it.
To ensure Auburn’s future is more directly molded and accepted by those who must take part in it, namely Auburn students and faculty, the decision process should be more open in the future.
The fact it wasn’t signifies a worrisome disregard from those who run Auburn for the very people they’re supposed to be serving.
In the end, being open to public input for such an impactful decision is imperative.
In doing so, our University can maintain an image of accountability and true professionalism.