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.

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  • Roy_Bean

    Somebody please explain to me how the University System differs from WSI. How can the State be so concerned about $25,000 at WSI and yet so unconcerned about $500,000,000 at the NDUS?

    • RCND

      Because that system is less state government and more of an imperial entity

  • reggy

    NDSU has a negotiated indirect cost rate with the federal government that allows for a portion of all grants received to have some money set aside for indirect costs, which are intended to cover administrative overhead. Are they saying that they’re using those dollars on the plane instead of helping to pay for their admin costs? Cause if so…wow.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Apparently that is what they’re saying.

    • RCND

      Even if that is the case, it is wrong when more affordable transportation options are available

  • Matthew Hawkins

    Indirect cost recoveries are costs to pay for overhead.

    When a university gets a grant or contract for research they charge for overhead as a percentage of the rest of the costs. These funds go into a unrestricted pool of money.

    • RCND

      So that makes it ok? ethical?

      • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

        It’s legal but in my opinion not ethical. They should be very careful how they spend public money. It makes no difference what the source is. This is money that could defray other expenses that the taxpayers and/or the students are forced to cover.

        • RCND

          That is an excellent point…. and all for an extravagance

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          It turns out the indirect cost recovery funds that come in with these grants are pretty carefully controlled as to what they can be spent on.

          The question, and I’m trying to answer it, is whether or not it’s appropriate for NDSU to use those sort of funds for their airplane.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        I didn’t say it was OK, I just answered the question on what indirect costs were.

        • RCND

          Fair enough

  • WOOF

    “It costs money, because it saves money.”

  • NDConservative2011

    If President Bresciani’s lips were moving, then most likely he was lying.

  • headward

    NDSU can lie to whoever they want to including the legislature.

  • Absolute Truth

    Why not have the Attorney General Office investigate and apply charges of misappropriation of funds to President Bresciani. Then, a court system would be able to analyse whether he truly is a felon, or not.

    • camsaure

      Probably because we cannot trust the AG either. After all he is certainly a liberal.

  • JW-American

    I suggest an additional 10 FT employees added to the Auditors office to over see ALL of Higher ed spending, Pay them on % of moneys found outside of proper spending. If they find a cater bill for the Prez. house, require a full list of attendees, etc. Micro search ever dime.. If they start finding the pennies, the dollars will follow quickly.

    • JW-American

      The shareholders of the state Higher ed demand full accounting to the penny!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      That’s a good idea, and the funds for those auditors at the State Auditors Office ought to come out of the higher ed budget.

      The university system needs more external oversight, not more internal staff.