Grand Forks Herald Defends NDSU’s Airplane

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In an editorial responding to my on-going criticism of NDSU’s extravagant and unnecessary private airplane, the Grand Forks Herald defends the plane.

“Clearly, lots of people — including lots of private-sector entrepreneurs and executives, people who answer to a profit-or-loss bottom line — find that the time saved by flying point-to-point more than makes up for the cost, especially when distances are great, commercial air service isn’t available and attending a meeting otherwise would consume too much of executives’ time,” writes Tom Dennis on behalf of the Herald. “Again, it’s in North Dakota’s interest that NDSU — and UND and every other agency — operate aircraft as cost-effectively as possible. But it’s also in the interest of this 69,000-square-mile state, the 20th largest state in the union, to maximize the productivity of its highest paid executives by minimizing their travel time.”

That might be a valid argument if the realty of this situation were that NDSU’s airplane is saving North Dakota taxpayers, and students, money. But it’s not. Nothing could be further from the truth.

NDSU has disclosed that owning and operating the airplane costs them about $1 million per biennium, an expense they defray by renting the airplane out, garnering roughly $100,000/year. The remaining $800,000/year in costs they pull, as I disclosed in a post yesterday, from research grant money and interest income from the university’s Bank of North Dakota accounts.

Those are funds that could be used for the university’s operations. They could be used to lighten the heavy burden higher education represents to students and taxpayers in this state. Instead it’s used to fund another opulent perk for the university’s already grossly overpaid administrators.

Nor is it a cost-effective perk. When the legislature exercised some oversight of the use of state aircraft, they found that NDSU was paying 400% more for owning an aircraft than they’d pay if they simply chartered flights when they need them.

The higher ed apologists at the Herald insist that they want “cost effective” travel, but a $1 million/biennium private airplane to serve the travel whims of the university’s administration is anything but “cost effective.”

Shame on the Herald for excusing such an extravagance at a time when higher ed costs are already out of control.

Update: Apparently Forum Communications is going “all in” on defending NDSU’s airplane. A reader points out that the Fargo Forum editorial today also defends the airplane, and defends NDSU as one of the “best run businesses” in the state.

Which is why I usually don’t bother to read the Forum’s editorials which are usually long on name-calling and derision, and short on fact-based analysis.

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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