Calling UND’s Med School Building Demand “Infrastructure” Is Laughable


It always amuses me, as an observer of politics, the way people use words. For example, in the political world policy positions you disagree with are extreme and their proponents are extremists (or, perhaps, racists as the case may be).

When the other side stakes out a firm position, it’s always “polarizing” or “obstructionist.”

Another term that gets overused, I think, is “infrastructure.” It’s a common political trope that spending on infrastructure is good spending. Because after all, isn’t infrastructure something government is supposed to be doing?

If we were merely talking about roads and bridges and the like that argument might ring true. The problem is when we start using a term like “infrastructure” to meant things that aren’t really infrastructure at all. Like hugely expensive new buildings on our already bloated college campuses, which the Grand Forks Herald insists in their Sunday editorial is infrastructure.

It’s only 2012, but North Dakota’s population already has soared past 680,000. And “North Dakota’s population will break 800,000 by the end of the decade, according to state projec-tions,” Forum Communications reported in September.

With North Dakota’s surging population on track to jump by nearly a fifth over the next eight years, the state’s going to need more infrastructure — more roads, highways, sewage-treatment plants and schools.

In all of those areas, the state already has started to build.

Now, a new building for the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences should be added to the list. Because among the things those 800,000 people are going to need is health care — and to keep up with demand, the state’s leading school for health-care professionals must grow its enrollment and find new digs.

Justifying this lavish expansion with the impending national doctor shortage is laughable. That’s the result of Obamacare, and it’s a national problem having very little to do with policy here in North Dakota.

But here’s what baffles me: How is it that a university which trains students for one of the most lucrative industries in the nation, the medical arts, and which charges big money for that training (UND is #1 in the nation among public schools for student loan debt) can’t build it’s own facilities from it’s own revenues?

Make no doubt about it, higher education is big business. Other big businesses seem to have no problem building themselves adequate facilities without running to the taxpayers. That the University of North Dakota apparently needs the taxpayers to pay for this facility speaks to some seriously bad management of the institutions finances.

But then, the problem with higher education throughout North Dakota and the nation is that things that facilitate education seem to have taken a back seat to other priorities. For instance, at the University of North Dakota, administrative bloat seems to be a major priority. Since 2003 instructional staff at the university has actually declined 8.5%, while non-instructional employees have grown over 23%:

If UND wants a new medical school building perhaps they ought to re-prioritize their spending and pay for it themselves.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • WackerTruck

    Is there a link to that graph you posted? I would like to see what qualifies as teaching and non-teaching positions.

  • RCND

    Of course it is infrastructure … just like the President’s palace was “housing”

  • Tim Heise

    So if we build a new med school building more people will have better healthcare. NOT TRUE AT ALL. How many med students are, after residency, not coming back to ND?
    If you want more doctors have more residency programs! Simple as that. There is not a pediatric residency in ND and I know Altru at least has a very hard time getting people to come here to interview let alone take a job. Whenever you have foreign medical graduates, usually, that is an indicator that US graduates do not want to come to ND.

  • The Whistler

    The UND medical school has a ginormous building already. It’s the old St Michaels Hospital that they spent a ton on adding to and expanding. This is just another example of them building empires.

  • ND Observer

    Often I agree with Rob on criticisms relating to excesses in higher ed, but not this time. UND Medical School is a god send for healthcare in North Dakota. UND is the source of 80% of physicians in rural North Dakota. Access to healthcare would be awful if it were not for UND Med School graduates. Mostly students needs to be from a small town to live in a small town as charming as they are. The Med School has done a terrific job of connecting the med students with hospitals and clinics around the state, and these students stay in state for the most part. There is no question that more doctors are needed for future demand. A new medical school is a great investment in the future healthcare needs of North Dakotans. Outsiders are not going to take care of our healthcare. We want out children adn grandchildren to be able to physicians, physician assistants, nurses, OTs, PTs, etc. We need a good medical school to do that.

    • The Whistler

      I agree that it’s a good thing to have a medical school at UND. But I know that they are spending money wastefully and they don’t need a new building.

    • Tim Heise

      So we do not have a good medical school now w/o a 100 million in a new building? I am not against the building. I just think the rheteric is silly.
      We need more residencies!

  • VocalYokel

    While what passes for “higher education” in ND is “big business”, it is a business model unique to the free market.
    If the SBHE and the associated schools were forced to implement the same budget measures and constraints that govern real businesses, they would soon find the ivory tower would not be able to host quite so many floors.

  • Big Bully

    I’ve often thought that state officials from both North Dakota and South Dakota should meet at the state line and flip a coin. The one that wins the toss could select either the (only one) Medical School or the Pharmacy School. The other State would have the remaining School. All students for both Med and Pharm would be considered as in-state from both states. We would be able increase the output numbers from both professions from present numbers to 125%. Something like economy of scale expectations. But that would never word in the land of Ivory Towers.

  • JW-USA

    so if, BIG FRIGGING IF, the state goes from 650-800K people in the next unpteen years…

    what is that in HS Graduates?

    With non skilled jobs paying 20 dollars plus per hour out west, how many of those graduates would go on to college?

    Of that increase, how many do they forecast to go into med school?

    Finally how many out of state students do they plan to bribe to attend school in ND?

    So after we pay for these facilities and infrastructures, additional Professors, teachers aids, assistants, and administration and pensions for all, and everything else that enables them to attend, they can go back to their home states or countries and stick us with the bill?