Grand Forks Herald Defends NDSU’s Airplane

aristide_private_plane_2

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.

Related posts

  • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

    The Fargo Forum did a similar thing today.

    http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/386434/group/Opinion/

  • kent

    The problem is the plane. A king air flying to bismarck from fargo makes no sense. If it truely costs $5,000 an hour to operate (which seems high for that plane), but lets use $3k an hour. Compare that to a Cessna 182, which costs about $400 an hour to operate. That actual time savings between Fargo and Bismarck is 30 minutes. So is the person’s time worth enough to justify the cost difference? I don’t know. The other issue that comes into play is how many people are carried? If 2, then the king makes no sense, if hauling 6, you can maybe justify that. One that is missed is what is the value of the president and his management team. Realize NDSU is a billion dollar business. As such, executives are compensated as such. One such thing is air travel.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Realize NDSU is a billion dollar business.

      NDSU is not a business. if they were a business they wouldn’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the doors open.

      And the NDSU president is, frankly, not that important. He’s a glorified lobbyist and fundraiser. He is nothing akin to a private sector executive.

      • headward

        I don’t think university presidents can really get a job in the private sector as a CEO. Looking at their balance sheet would show that they need state funding because they’re running the school so deep into the red.
        If these president’s time is so valuable maybe we’re paying them too much.

  • Rick Olson

    Universities and colleges are indeed businesses. In North Dakota’s case, they are constitutionally-mandated ones which are funded by the state government. There’s a lot more to it than just providing an education to the students who enroll there. There are a lot of behind the scenes services that the institutions of higher education provide hardly get any mention and people do pay for those services. In NDSU’s case, this involves a lot of services related to the agribusiness industry. As an example. farmers send samples of their crops, soils, etc. to NDSU for testing. They pay NDSU to run those tests and receive a report from NDSU about those results. In other words, they’re paying for a service that is being rendered by NDSU.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Universities and colleges are indeed businesses. In North Dakota’s case, they are constitutionally-mandated ones which are funded by the state government.

      They are government agencies, not businesses.

      If you want them to be businesses, privatize them.

      • Rick Olson

        Robert, with all due respect, I beg to differ. Yes, higher education is a government agency. However, under North Dakota’s unified higher education system, it seems to me that the North Dakota Higher Education System is the government agency; while the state’s eleven public institutions of higher education are constitutionally-mandated institutions. They are not agencies by definition of the word of the state government in and of themselves, since apparently they have little if no autonomy in the overall sense of things. Everything the institutions do ultimately has to filter up to the Board of Higher Education and the Chancellor in one fashion or another.

        When a farmer sends his soil or crop samples to NDSU for testing, he doesn’t write his check to the North Dakota Higher Education System, does he or she? They write their check out to North Dakota State University.

        Intercollegiate sports is definitely a business in and of itself. The Bison football team of course is the flagship program of the entire athletic department at NDSU. While, quite arguably up at UND, the men’s hockey program is the flagship program of its entire athletic department. In both instances, all the other sports at each campus takes a back seat.

        But since the higher education system receives appropriations from the state Legislature and the institutions receives appropriations from the state Legislature, I suppose it could be argued on that one single point that the colleges and universities could be definied as government agencies.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Robert, with all due respect, I beg to differ. Yes, higher education is a government agency. However, under North Dakota’s unified higher education system, it seems to me that the North Dakota Higher Education System is the government agency; while the state’s eleven public institutions of higher education are constitutionally-mandated institutions. They are not agencies by definition of the word of the state government in and of themselves

          Well you’re certainly entitled to make up your own version of reality, but the universities are state agencies. The employees are state employees. They are not businesses.

          • Rick Olson

            Okay, but as as product of the university system, (B.A., NDSU, Class of 1989), I often heard people refer to the university as a business. Yes, I realize in the grand scheme of things, the institutions do operate as government agencies. However, as I said, the colleges and universities perform a number of functions which would be considered business functions. The services to agribusiness in the case of NDSU.

          • headward

            If these are businesses, don’t force me as a tax payer to bail them out every year with a injection of tax payers’ money. I don’t want to invest but I’m forced to because I pay taxes. Business strive to make their investors money not ask for more year over year.

          • yy4u2

            Nice product. /sarc

    • RCND

      None if what you say justifies them owning this airplane. Right now it is a huge black hole that tax money is getting sucked into. There may be occasions where flying makes sense for them, but in those cases they should lease a flight. Many of their Bismarck trips can should be done by car or GoToMeeting. Many businesses (real or perceived) in the state do just that

      • Rick Olson

        I didn’t address the plane. My back and forth with Robert has been about whether or not NDSU is a business.

        • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

          I’ll chime in then. They are not a business, although one could wish that they run with a business like attitude to expenses and services.

          They might have business like activities but it’s still a government agency who happens to have some business like characteristics.

        • RCND

          But it was the business aspect being used to justify a turbine powered aircraft that costs big bucks to run, maintain, and hanger

  • Hal109

    When corporations get into a financial pinch, the first area that gets cut is the corporate flight department. There is no legitimate reason for the university system to operate an aircraft like they do.

    From Bloomturd: RIM is looking into selling one of its two corporate jets in yet another effort to cut some costs.

    Citing unnamed inside sources, Bloomberg has reported that as part of its goal
    of saving $1 billion in annual costs, RIM has decided to sell its cute
    9-passenger jet for about $6 or $7 million.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      When corporations get into a financial pinch, the first area that gets cut is the corporate flight department.

      Which is why NDSU and the other universities aren’t a business. They don’t operate on a profit-and-loss model. They operate on appropriations, and revenue from heavily-subsidized tuition.

  • Tim Heise

    Since when is NDSU a business. Do they make a profit?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      No, they actually lose quite a bit of money which has to be made up by the taxpayers.

    • Rick Olson

      No they don’t. It’s part business, but mostly a part of a state government entity.

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    If they’re so damn well run they can do without a subsidy of my hard earned money.

  • Hal109

    Has anyone, other than Rob, asked why they need an airplane?

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      Because Bresciani runs a big school spread across squares of miles.

  • Rick Olson

    Why is there such disdain and axes to grind with higher education amongst this group? If you don’t like it, then do something about it. Use your right to petition and vote higher education out of existence. Better yet, run for office if you think you can do the job better. In other words, put your money where your mouths are.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      We are doing something about it. We’re speaking out, and making a difference. There is a much different attitude in the legislature about higher ed these days, and we’ll see what happens.

      But the problem is, higher ed is set up as a sort of fourth branch of governemnt. There’s simply not enough oversight by elected officials.

      • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

        Lot’s of people support higher education because they think educating our kids is important. Others appreciate the education they got.

        There’s nothing wrong with those feelings, but it doesn’t excuse the poor performance and actual corruption in higher education today. If they love their school they should be demanding reform rather than getting in the way.

        Others though think they benefit from higher education spending. I have no time for them or any other crony capitalists.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      And there’s disdain for higher ed because of higher ed’s performance. They’re doing a terrible job, and we’re spending too much money, tuition is through the roof and people are upset.

  • SportsDoc

    Maybe one or two of the proposed 30 new NDUS employees could check into this for us!

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Yeah, right.

  • guest

    Mr. Dennis and the rest of state media in North Dakota could learn much from these Chinese press people who stood up to China’s propaganda machine. http://news.yahoo.com/feisty-chinese-newspaper-stood-press-freedom-001230619.html
    Although I don’t have much hope.

Top