Why Can’t North Dakota State University Stop Lying About Their Airplane?


I recently got wind from a source in Fargo about North Dakota State University’s airplane being sold. Since I’ve written extensively about the airplane – which is an expensive frivolity that ought to be an embarrassment given how often NDSU pleads poverty to state appropriators, and how the institution has exploded tuition and fee costs for students – I decided to request some information about the sale.

After all, HB1033 passed by the state legislature mandated that NDSU sell the airplane by June of 2017. I was curious to see what arrangements NDSU had made to be rid of the airplane.

So I sent an open records request to Mimi Monson at NDSU, who I usually make such requests to (Monson has apparently been assigned by the university to handle my requests specifically), asking for records of the sale or the impending sale. The response I got wasn’t from Monson but rather NDSU General Counsel Christopher Wilson.

“NDSU does not have any records responsive to your request,” he told me in response.

I was dubious, because my source was pretty clear that a deal was done or close to done.

“Does NDSU still currently own the airplane? Are there any plans to sell it?” I asked in response to Wilson’s email. In reply, I got back this whopper:

NDSU does not own an airplane.  NDSU leases an airplane from the NDSU Development Foundation.  Options are being actively explored for the sale of the airplane.

The problem? This is a lie. NDSU absolutely owns an airplane, and I have the data points to prove it.

According to the FAA, NDSU’s airplane is registered to NDSU at NDSU’s mailing address (click for a larger view):

download (26)


This is important, because according to the Federal Aviation Regulations § 47.5, “An aircraft may be registered only by and in the legal name of its owner.”

What’s more, NDSU President Dean Bresciani certainly behaves as though his institution were the owner of the airplane. Below are emails between Bresciani and NDSU alumni/booster Steve Scheel (of the Scheels Sporting Goods stores) in which the two are negotiating a situation where Scheels would buy the plane and allow extensive use of it for NDSU.

“While the legislative requirement to sell the plane may yet dissipate for this session, I’m confident that the issue for them will never go away,” writes Bresciani to Scheel. “Given that, I continue to be very interested in finding a private party to purchase the plane with something like an 80 hour annual charter agreement for NDSU when it is not in use by the owner.”

Why is the President of NDSU trying to find a private party to buy an airplane NDSU supposedly doesn’t own?

I responded to Wilson with this:

That’s inaccurate. Per the FAA the airplane is registered to NDSU. And i have emails concerning the sale of the plane between Bresciani and Mr. Steve Scheel.

Why would the President of NDSU be negotiating the sale of a plane NDSU doesn’t own?

I would like to request all communications regarding this potential sale, as well as any documents concerning the purchase.

Thank you.

In reply, Wilson wrote: “We’re working on your request.  We should have it to you next week.”

The official line from NDSU is that the NDSU Development Foundation, allegedly a separate entity from the university, owns the airplane and not the university. If that’s true, then the registration of the airplane breaks federal law. And it doesn’t appear to be true in practice given that NDSU President Dean Bresciani a) has the plane available at beck-and-call and b) is apparently authorized to negotiate the sale of the plane.

Which brings to light an important issue for the state’s university system. A lot of the campuses have these organizations which we’re told are separate and private and thus not subject to many of the state’s accountability laws (i.e. allowing a legislator/university employee to expense his country club membership and top-shelf booze). But are these organizations really separate and private, or just front groups allowing the universities to skirt the law and accountability?

The lesson of NDSU’s airplane is that the latter seems more true.

Bresciani Scheel Emails

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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  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    I don’t buy that foundations are a separate entity from the Universities.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Neither do I, any more than some of the “centers of excellence” are separate either.

      I think it’s a claim they make to avoid the accountability and restrictions that come with being part of the government.

    • devilschild

      I never bought that either…especially when Earl Strinden was in charge of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

  • kevindf

    It’s another example of the shell games that are rampant in this state!

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    The foundation raises money to help the college educate the students. Instead of doing that they have been all over buying frivolities for the administration.

    They were paying for mansions and luxury boxes and country club memberships for the former president. They’ve been paying for unnecessary airplanes for someone who runs a single campus.

    I wouldn’t give any money to a school foundation unless it was specified where the money would go.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The foundation raises money to help the college educate the students. Instead of doing that they have been all over buying frivolities for the administration.

      I think that’s a really good point. Even if everything were perfectly kosher with the airplane and its ownership, this is how the foundation spends their money? Not helping the kids or defraying the cost of attending the school, but making an airplane available so that Bresciani can fly around?

      That is misguided.

      • devilschild

        Flying Joe Chapman and his family to Obama’s inauguration…paid for by the NDSU Development Foundation. But they did charter a flight for him since the university’s plane was being repaired.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Mean while, for how many years has NDSU claimed that they’re impoverished due to insufficient funding from the legislature?

          • ec99

            Standard operating procedure for universities. While the Moorhead State president cried poverty, he was trying to accrue $20 million to form a D I hockey team.

  • http://flamemeister.com flamemeister

    Flitting about in a private plane is sooooo nice! It’s almost like being a productive executive in the private sector..

  • http://randysroundtable.blogspot.com/ Randy G

    They don’t own a plane that they are trying to sell because they might need to use that plane before they sell it after they find out if they really do own said plane. Higher Ed gibberish= blatant lies…

  • headward

    I’m still wondering why they need a plane? They drive one of the cars or SUVs from the NDSU fleet, or fly with us regular peasants. Doesn’t the NDSU President have a vehicle allowance(not sure of the figure, I know it’s in the thousands)?

    • JoeMN

      What ?
      And risk being seen outside their ivory towers, and fraternizing with the riff-raff ?

  • meh

    Stop looking behind the curtain

  • JoeMN

    It would appear almost all of the narrative set by the left about the wealthy and powerful are absolutely correct.

    Except that those in question are funded by government

  • Flyby_Knight

    “(Monson has apparently been assigned by the university to handle my requests specifically)”

    That’s a badge of honor, in my opinion.

  • Roy_Bean

    They have to hide the plane so the unwashed masses have time to forget about it before next November.

  • Jonesy

    Something to look into….. does the “external attorney” NDSU hired to sell the plane have approval of the Attorney General, who would designate that attorney as a “Special Assistant Attorney General?”

  • WOOF

    Sell the plane.

    A helicopter would save all that driving
    to and from airports.

  • Anti-NCAA

    NDSU and the “Foundation” even lie to the reporters so they might look like stewards of good faith?

    NDSU Development Foundation Signs Letter of Intent for Airplane Purchase
    September 11, 2013

    The NDSU Development Foundation has signed a letter of intent with Scheels All Sports, Inc., for Scheels to purchase the Foundation’s airplane.
    “This is an exciting opportunity for the NDSU Development Foundation and for our prospective buyer, creating a win-win scenario for both parties,” said Doug Mayo, president and CEO of the Development Foundation.
    The Foundation has owned planes since 1972, and purchased this plane in 2007.
    The 2013 legislature passed a bill essentially requiring the NDSU Development Foundation to sell the plane by 2017.

  • NDHigherEdRocks

    Why Can’t You Stop Writing About North Dakota State University And Their Airplane?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Because it’s an important issue.

    • RCND

      Because they continue to play games rather than be responsible

  • two_amber_lamps

    “You don’t need to see our documentation. This isn’t the plane you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along. Move along.”

  • Spook

    What’s better is they may very well be overpaying the lease so they can pad the coffers of the foundation. The school could have bought the plane cheaper than leasing it from themselves.