Steven Leath: “We must be bold.”


After eight months of planning – and with the involvement of nearly 1,000 individuals – Steven Leath was officially installed as Iowa State University’s 15th president on Friday, Sept. 14.

The ceremony, held in Stephens Auditorium, began with a special “Cyclone Fanfare” arranged by director of bands Michael Golemo. The academic procession included not just robed representatives of colleges and universities around the nation, learned societies and professional organizations, and other faculty and staff– but also 500 red-T-shirt-clad representatives of the ISU student body.

It was quite a scene.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and both of Iowa’s senators, Tom Harkin (’62 government) and Charles Grassley, were on hand for the formal installation of President Leath by Craig Lang (’73 dairy science), Iowa Board of Regents president. Leath was introduced by longtime friend and mentor Erskine Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system.

Leath’s presidential installation address focused on two primary areas: providing a high-quality educational experience for students and expanding and strengthening university partnerships.

“We must be accessible,” Leath told the crowd. “And being accessible means being affordable.” He then announced a four-part plan that would hold down costs, provide better financial counseling for students and their families, be more creative in helping students finding lower-cost paths to four-year degrees, and maximize revenue streams other than tuition to support academic programs.

“Starting now, starting today, and over the next five years, we pledge to raise an additional 150 million dollars for student support. Iowa State’s great alumni and friends will have another opportunity to come through for this university, and our students will love this initiative as it builds into a full-fledged campaign in the next few years.”

About his second major focus, Leath said, “I want Iowa State to be known as the ‘partnership university.’ More than that, I want to be known as the university
that gets it right when it comes to partnering with others. One size does not fit all.”

His objectives include leveraging the strengths of Iowa State Extension and Outreach and the Office of Research and Economic Development as well as significantly expanding the Iowa State Research Park.

In his installation address, Leath also announced initiatives to:

  • Make available up to $1.5 million per year for three years for interdisciplinary projects selected to encourage and expand research efforts.
  • Expand the number of graduate students to support research
  • Enhance campus beautification, including the Iowa State Center grounds, and further invest in University Museums and Reiman Gardens
  • Promote diversity on campus by supporting several recommendations proposed by the University Committee on Women and other key groups, and also by partnering with King and Moulton Elementary Schools in Des Moines to help increase the number of lower-income and minority students enrolling at Iowa State


“I have been here at Iowa State the last two days, and I cannot believe you guys are paying Steve Leath to take this job. This place is great! I mean, wow….you have a campus that’s as beautiful as any I have ever seen. You have a student body who is really smart and really gets it…. You’ve got an undefeated football team…. But best of all you’ve got a sky that’s Carolina blue, and so I am thrilled to be here.”

“I didn’t come here just to introduce a former colleague. I came here to introduce a man I care about, and care about deeply, a genuine friend, a man who is without question a true and dedicated leader. In Dr. Steven Leath, I guarantee you, you have a winner. You have a winner, you have a doer, you have a difference maker, a leader — a leader who will truly change tomorrow for thousands of young people in this great state…. Steve Leath was destined, truly destined, to be president of a great, leading land-grant university and, by golly, he got to go to the first land-grant university and, probably, the best. Iowa State, you have a proven leader in Steve Leath. There is no else to whom I’d rather trust the future of my children, my university, or my state than Dr. Steve Leath.”

– Erskine Bowles, in his Sept. 14 introduction of President Steven Leath.
Bowles is president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system.
He was also White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.

‘From Great to Greater’
An excerpt from President Steven Leath’s Installation Address
“My vision for Iowa State University is still a work in progress. I hope it continues to be, because I want to be a listening president. I want to constantly get input. But I can tell you the vision that is forming: It’s not small. It’s big. It’s innovative. And I have very high expectations for the people of Iowa State and for this great university! The great success of Iowa State over the past 154 years has resulted from bold leadership. And now we must be bolder, and we must think bigger in terms of our goals and impact, if we are going to drive Iowa State from great …to greater …at a time when our state really needs us.

“First, let us all do everything we can to leave this university better than we found it. Second, take every opportunity to look beyond your own area to see how what you do impacts the bigger picture that is Iowa State University and this great state of Iowa. Third, look at every task as an opportunity to be innovative, be interdisciplinary, and to create partnerships. And fourth, be bold. Innovation, boldness, and partnerships created these revolutionary land-grant institutions and made them the great institutions they are today. These same characteristics will carry us forward as we take Iowa State University from great…to greater.”

‘A Joyful Feel’
Library Dean Olivia Madison, chair of the Installation Planning Committee, can’t decide whether to call the number of people involved with Steven Leath’s presidential installation an army or a battalion.

installation_madison“So many people made it happen!” she says. “There was an incredible array of talent and dedication and the belief in the historical significance of this event. To have something like this go so smoothly meant many people looked after it.”

Madison needn’t be so humble. Her leadership of the committee came from many years of experience. She not only chaired the last installation (for President Gregory Geoffroy), she also chaired the committee for the installation of his predecessor, Martin Jischke.

Though Madison says the three ceremonies were far more similar than different, two special elements of this event stand out to her: the student delegation (500 students representing every possible element of the campus, an idea she credits to Tom Hill, senior vice president for student affairs) and the Cyclone Fanfare arranged by director of bands Michael Golemo. And one more thing: the number of friends and colleagues from Leath’s past who made the trip to Ames to be a part of his special day.

“It was like a wedding,” she says. “It had such a joyful feel.”


By the numbers

  • 8 members of the Installation Planning Committee
  • 38 platform party officials at the installation ceremony
  • 500 student representatives at the ceremony
  • XV: The number on the back of the student representatives’
    T-shirts, designating President Leath as the 15th president of
    Iowa State University — and Leath’s personalized license plate
  • 45 universities represented by delegates at the ceremony
  • 144 student musicians performed in the installation ceremony
    (64 in the ISU Wind Ensemble; 80 Iowa State Singers)
  • 24 hours of rehearsal required for the student music groups
  • 780 pork burgers served on central campus at the student
    celebration picnic on “installation eve”
  • 3 desserts served at the presidential installation luncheon at the Knoll (bittersweet chocolate tiramisu with orange crème anglaise, “Baked Alaska” pumpkin pie, and fresh fall pears)


ISU President Steven Leath with his wife, Janet, and his parents, Kenneth and Marie.

Lost in translation
President Leath is known for a number of, well, “Leath-isms.”

When he says: “That dog won’t hunt.”
He means: “Just forget about it.”

When he says: “You don’t buy a good dog and then do your own barking.”
He means: “Hire good people and let them do their jobs.”

More Presidential Installation Online

  • Installation history: Installations are a celebratory tradition that have marked presidential beginnings at Iowa State since 1896 when Adonijah Welch formally took the helm. Learn about the installations of former ISU presidents.
  • Ceremonial trappings: The university mace, robe, and chain of office
  • Read President Leath’s full installation address
  • Listen to an original Cyclone Fanfare
  • Watch a video of the installation ceremony and see more photos

About this Story | By Carole Gieseke, editor of VISIONS. Originally published in the winter 2013 issue.


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