Did NDSU Lie To The Media About The Funding For Their Airplane?

dean bresciani

North Dakota State University has a lot of problems being forthcoming about their controversial private airplane. They tried to exempt it from a state inquiry into airplane use by claiming it was owned by the Alumni Foundation and not the university (that didn’t pass muster). Then they claimed they were going to sell the plane, except now it’s no longer on the market and they’re already using it to shuttle higher ed officials back and forth to the legislative session (at the cost of thousands of dollars per round trip).

Earlier this week the folks at Valley News Live did a story about the plane, and NDSU was in full spin mode claiming that the plane isn’t paid for with taxpayer or tuition dollars. According to the report, “the university says they raised money through donors and private investors to purchase and operate the plane.”

I didn’t think that was true, so I made an open records request to the university for a list of the “donors” and “private investors” who are funding the airplane. What did I find out?

There are none. “The airplane’s use is not, as was reported, paid by donors and/or private investors,” NDSU General Counsel Christopher Wilson told me in an email. “The University pays for the airplane through non-general funds and revenues generated by usage.”

Asked what “non-general funds” are specifically, Wilson told me they’re “interest income and indirect cost recoveries.”

Your guess is as good as mine as to what “indirect cost recoveries” are. Is the university cutting funds elsewhere in their budget to pay for the airplane? That would be a shocking revelation for a university which consistently claims it is underfunded.

As for interest income, wouldn’t that be better spent defraying the cost of the university to student and taxpayers instead of paying for an extravagant perk like a private airplane for university officials?

They may as well be using tax dollars and tuition revenues.

The university also claimed in the report that they’re paying for part of the airplane with revenues from renting it out. “They say they average about 100 thousand dollars a year renting the jet,” reports Valley News Live. That’s all well and good, but according to reports made by NDSU to the legislature, they’re paying in excess of $500,000/year to own and operate the airplane.

We’re to believe the other $400,000 is coming from “interest income” and “indirect cost recoveries?”

It’s time for NDSU to shut this airplane down. And since NDSu clearly can’t be trusted to do it on their own, maybe the legislature ought to make them.

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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