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

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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.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. 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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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