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New ISU president's policies should be heeded

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Mentioning Iowa State University on this campus is usually met with a jumble of hisses, moans, and often a self-deprecating jab concerning football. But with the recent selection of a new and innovative president, University of Iowa students and faculty should put the rivalry on hold and consider the value the future ISU president is proposing to create.

Steven Leath was recently chosen by the state Board of Regents to be the next president of ISU, succeeding Gregory Geoffroy who announced his retirement last March. Leah is supposed to take office in February of next year.

Leath has fresh ideas regarding scientific research, and with it, an optimistic outlook of future private-sector opportunities in the volatile economy. During his tenure as University of North Carolina vice president for research and sponsored programs, Leah reduced investment restrictions while streamlining university research to private companies. These policies should be closely examined and implemented at the UI.

The UI is nationally recognized as a premiere research institution. It ranks 11th among public universities in grants provided by the National Institutes of Health. By facilitating communication between university researchers and the private sector, the UI could reduce its reliance on federal money and augment the quality of its research. More often than not, innovation leads to growth. The U.S. needs to start growing, and this state should do its part to push forward.

Leath headed the development of a project called REACH-NC, a portal for private and public sector researchers to share their expertise with students, and allows for more fluid interaction between "real world" professionals and the efforts at the public university. This program now has more than 12,000 members and includes faculty from Duke University and Wake Forest University, and was funded by external funds raised by Leath.

Before Heath took office, North Carolina investors were forced to wait six to 12 months for research to be privatized. Today, the school's faculty can start companies within 30 days of their research.

In his acceptance speech, Leath was asked about his ability to raise funds so quickly, especially from outside sources not connected with the public sector. He stressed the need for an better interaction with both local individuals in the public and private sector, explaining that fundraising, "is not about asking for money, this is about relations."

Having something of a budget crisis on its campus, UI could take a look at the way Leath raises funds and handles investments from both governmental and private funds, creating relationships between sister schools and formulating lasting bonds in the community. He looks at running a university like a corporation of learning, as contributors and parents invest in the education of Iowa's students, which in turn is investing in Iowa's future economic stability.

He also stresses open lines of communication between fiscal programs and patrons of education explaining, "Most of the tough decisions involved personnel or budget allocations, and because we're in this world of limited resources, you can't do all of the things you want to do and you can't even fund all of the projects you want to fund. You have to make choices and you have to deliver that message."

In a speech given in Morrill Hall in Ames, Leath not only challenged ISU to become greater, he challenged the state of Iowa.

"When the students come to us and say we're not nimble enough, we're not forward-thinking enough, or we're not instituting the new degree programs they want to make an employable future, then we need to react," he said.

The universities of the state of Iowa can take a page out of the book of Leath and begin to foster more growth and force the community to invest more in students that make them unique. Maybe then our universities can take our rivalries off the field and into academic and economic success.


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