Something was seriously amiss, I reasoned, when Auburn President Steven Leath refused to put a football-only facility on the June agenda and members of the Board of Trustees overrode him. That was a public slap in the face.
About two weeks later, Dr. Leath announced he was stepping down as Auburn president. Thus, after only two years, Auburn is back on the leadership carousel. Where it stops, nobody knows.
Let’s face it, Dr. Leath was never a good fit for Auburn. Goals and expectations are different at Iowa State, where he worked previously, than at Auburn, although both are land-grant universities.
One avid Auburn supporter described Leath’s tenure as “a disaster from the start” and said that his departure would have been only a matter of time had he not resigned.
Sources indicate there was not any one thing that caused the split between Leath and the board, but ongoing issues, not the least of which was his micro-managing the campus, particularly athletics.
Football coach Gus Malzhan’s huge $49 million contract, which many Auburn people now regret, has to figure into the equation. If Auburn has another five-loss season, there will be cries for the coach’s employment to be terminated, and Auburn would be stuck with another huge buyout.
Although Dr. Leath came from a school that apparently does not put as great of an emphasis on athletics as Auburn, among the knocks on Leath was that he would not let Athletic Director Allen Greene do his job — that Leath desired to be de facto athletics director.
Compare Leath’s management style to that of his predecessor, Dr. Jay Gogue. Likable and self-deprecating, Gogue was very much a bottom-to-top manager. He trusted and admired his managers, while seeking and accepting their input.
Leath’s management style was, I am told, just the opposite. Decisions flowed from the top down.
Some trustees apparently were concerned about the massive amount of building projects ongoing at Auburn, although they approved the projects prior to construction. Someone estimated 1.3 million square feet of construction.
Some trustees apparently were still unhappy that due diligence was not done before Leath was hired, particularly with regard to allegations that Leath misused state aircraft at Iowa State.
Ms. Leath also apparently was not happy in Auburn.
"They had sort of a pompous attitude that did not fit well with Auburn," said a source familiar with the situation.
Dr. Leath said in his statement that being Auburn president was the highlight of his career and that he did not doubt that he leaves the school in better shape than he found it. I believe he did some good things, such as raising Auburn’s stature as a research institution.
Auburn has been there and done that with regard to nationwide searches aimed at finding that special person who understands Auburn and wants top-ranked academic and athletic programs.
Let us hope that the trustees get it right this time.
Retired Auburn attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager newspaper and the online publication, auburnvillager.com. Before going into law, he was state Capitol reporter for The Huntsville Times and state editor for The Columbus Ledger. Email him your comments about the newspaper to firstname.lastname@example.org.