University of North Carolina Vice President for Research Steven Leath will be the next president of Iowa State University.

Leath was one of the founders of the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.

Leath worked with billionaire founder David Murdock and others to create the academic blueprint for the biotech complex.

Leath initially oversaw N.C. State’s participation in the campus. Former UNC President Erskine Bowles tapped him to supervise the UNC system’s development at the life sciences hub.

He most recently ran day-to-day operations for the David H. Murdock Research Institute until former N.C. State chancellor Dr. James Oblinger took over as its president.

Leath still serves on the board of directors of the institute, the nonprofit centerpiece of the fledgling life-sciences hub in downtown Kannapolis.

The regents made their unanimous decision at a meeting at the Ames campus on Sept. 27 after meeting with Leath and the other finalist, Kumble Subbaswamy, provost at the University of Kentucky.

Leath will replace current Iowa State President Gregory Geoffrey, who has announced he will retire next year after serving as president since 2001.

“Dr. Leath has demonstrated extensive expertise in all areas that are critical to leading Iowa State University,” said Craig Lang, president of the Iowa Board of Regents, in a statement.

“His specific experience with university research and technology transfer, and their application to economic development, will be an invaluable resource in leading Iowa State and its many contributions to the state of Iowa, particularly for Iowa’s bioeconomy industry.”

The university noted that Leath has been vice president for research and sponsored programs for the University of North Carolina system since 2007. He also is interim vice president for academic planning.

At North Carolina State, Leath was associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service.

Earlier in his career, he also was a research leader and plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service; and an extension plant pathologist at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Leath will become the 15th president in Iowa State history. He will begin working at Iowa State on Feb. 1 and will be paid $440,000 annually. His initial term will be for three years.

“My first priority is to get to know the faculty and students,” Leath said after his hiring was announced.

Regents President Craig Lang said Leath “has a proven record of successful fundraising as well as a strong background in research.”

The regents interviewed both finalists, then debated their decision privately for much of the afternoon.

“Both of them had strengths and weaknesses,” Lang said.

At his introduction, Leath said he’s already begun to get to know the campus.

“I’ve already met student leaders and staff leaders and faculty leadership,” said Leath. While raising money and developing political support for the school is important, Leath said his initial focus would be on the campus itself.

“I’ll make sure there’s time for students, faculty and staff,” he said.

(The Salisbury Post and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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