Steven Leath named new AU President

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Steven Leath, current president of Iowa State University, has been named Auburn's next president.

He became Iowa State's president in 2012, after five years as vice president for research at the University of North Carolina.

The Board of Trustees voted on the new president today after announcing its meeting only four days ago. No potential candidates were named before today.

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Charles McCrary Chairman pro tem said the official action of voting for Leath took place in the Student Center to symbolize the President's dedication to serving students. 

"We look forward to your leadership and to working for you and with you for many years," McCrary said.

Leath said he was humbled and honored to be chosen for the position.

"The first thing I'd like to say is War Eagle," Leath said. "I'm going to enjoy getting to say that on a regular basis."

Leath said he is confident he can make Auburn a premiere land-grant university. 

"Auburn is a very special place," Leath said. "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."

Iowa State, like Auburn, is a land-grant university. Before the announcement, a former board of trustees member told the Opelika-Auburn News that Leath's experience at Iowa State would serve him well as Auburn's president.

"I don't know, but it's almost a necessity for (the next president) to have that land-grant experience," Earlon McWhorter said. "We're a unique university, and he would need to know who we are. If he has land-grant experience, he will know who we are."

Leath was at the center of a six-week investigation — and was ultimately not charged — earlier this year, after a December audit of Iowa State's board of regents found Leath used university planes for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home, the Associated Press reported. He has now reimbursed the university for those flights.

During a flight in 2015, Leath, a pilot, damaged the university’s newly purchased Cirrus SR22 single-engine plane while he and his wife were flying home from a vacation, according to an Opelika-Auburn News report.

In regards to this conflict, Leath said it's best to address the elephant in the room. 

"I work hard," Leath said. "I work seven days a week and I use the plane a lot. I raised more money than any president in Iowa State history. “It's hard to raise $700 million in five years in one small college town, so you have to get out and about. The trustees and I have talked about that. Any use of the university aircraft will be prudent and focused on university business, and I think we're past that.”

Leath also appointed Jim Kurtenbach, former Republican lawmaker, to the more than $250,000 salaried position of interim chief information officer without a search around the same time Kurtenbach gave Leath personal flight lessons, according to the same report.

A 14-member search committee headed by Birmingham businessman and trustee Raymond J. Harbert led the search.

Jay Gogue, who has been the University's president since 2007, announced his retirement in September. 

"It's probably time. You know, you get old, and you get cantankerous," Gogue joked in an interview with The Plainsman in November.

At the time, Gogue told the board that he would continue serving until they found a replacement.

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