Exclusive: ISU accounting issues still delaying state financial report

Challenges in obtaining auditable financial data from Iowa State University continue to delay the publication of the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) covering the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services compiles the CAFR and typically publishes it by December 31. The latest edition has been held up because ISU was unable to submit its year-end financial data on the usual timetable.

The university switched to using the Workday computer system for accounting at the start of the 2020 fiscal year. While Iowa’s public universities have long sent year-end data to the Department of Administrative by October 1, ISU is still working on some “supplemental pieces” six months later.

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Iowa's state universities are dying, slowly

Alex Travesset dispels some misconceptions that threaten to turn Iowa’s state universities into “giant teaching community colleges with no research.” -promoted by Laura Belin

It was January of 1997 when I got an offer for a three-year research position at Syracuse University in New York. I defended my PhD that summer and arrived at Syracuse in early September. I had never been in the U.S. before, but I quickly found it a fantastic environment to work, based on merit and so different with the bureaucracy and cronyism that I had experienced in European universities.

Fast forward to winter 2002. During another two-year position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, preceded by a short-term but productive visiting position at Harvard University, I was interviewing for faculty jobs. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst I had an exchange I will never forget. Noticing that the institution was in apparent crisis at the time, I very politely inquired about it to the chair of the Department of Physics. He told me very honestly that Massachusetts had too many top private universities, and it was not like the Midwest, where legislators are alumni and have developed a pride and special bond toward their public universities.

Fittingly, my last interview was at Iowa State. I fell in love right away; it was quite similar to the University of Illinois, had a thriving department, but in addition, a National Lab, the Ames lab, just across the physics building. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I got an offer, which I accepted without delay. In August 2002, I moved to Ames and started a tenure track position as assistant professor. As is the norm, I was given generous funds to get my research group started. With the typical highs and lows, I got tenure and was promoted to associate professor in 2008. I became full professor in 2013.

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As GOP lawmakers threaten free inquiry, governor emphasizes "bottom line"

Herb Strentz: Republican bills to ban tenure at Iowa’s state universities have moved forward in both chambers. Governor Kim Reynolds isn’t concerned. -promoted by Laura Belin

When one surveys the efforts of the Iowa legislature and Governor Kim Reynolds this legislative session, the words “striving for equality” may not come to mind — what with efforts to undercut public education, sabotage access to abortion, punish the LGBTQ community and enact other vindictive measures, as noted by Kathie Obradovich in Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“Equality” does come to mind, however, albeit in an oddball way — the efforts of some legislators to bring Iowans down to their level of what Iowa should be about.

That may be a harsh way to look at Iowa law-making, but it is merited by House File 49 and Senate File 41, proposals to make Iowa the first state in the nation to outlaw tenure at its public universities, in our case Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

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Where are they now? Steven Leath edition

A contact recently asked what Steven Leath is up to lately. Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers will recall this site’s extensive coverage of the scandal regarding the Iowa State University president’s misuse of state-owned aircraft. Leath resigned as ISU president in March 2017 to accept a position as president of Auburn University in Alabama. However, that university’s trustees agreed in June 2019 to pay Leath $4.5 million to walk away from the job two years into a five-year contract. He is due to collect the last of three $1.5 million payments this July.

While Leath was still at Auburn, President Donald Trump appointed him to the National Science Board, a body that advises Congress and the presidential administration on matters related to science or engineering. His term will expire in May 2024. Leath walked then-candidate Trump across the field before the Iowa/Iowa State football game in September 2015, a controversial act he said was not meant as an endorsement. He has long been friendly with Donald Trump, Jr., with whom he sat during the Iowa State men’s basketball “Sweet Sixteen” game in Madison Square Garden in March 2014.

The younger Trump and Leath share an interest in hunting, which is the focus of the former university president’s newest position. The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports announced in October that Leath would serve as the organization’s executive director, beginning January 1, 2021. How much he will earn in that job is not clear; available tax returns indicate the nonprofit has been paying a firm owned by the council’s CEO between $186,139 and $193,584 annually for “general management services.”

In late 2017, Leath sold the Hardin County land he had purchased the previous year, with the help of a company run by then Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. He still has at least one formal connection to Iowa, though, as an advisory council member for the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines.

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ISU switch to Workday accounting delayed state financial report

The state of Iowa missed a deadline for publishing a key report on its finances because Iowa State University was unable to provide the data on time.

Iowa’s public universities have typically submitted their financial information to the state by October 1, allowing the state to complete its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) by December 31. But ISU is more than four months behind schedule in submitting data for fiscal year 2020.

The delay stems from the university’s transition to a new accounting method using Workday software, raising concerns about the functionality of the computer system state government committed to in 2019.

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