In a story sparked, I believe, by my post yesterday about NDSU using the university’s private airplane to visit the legislature (it’s ok, news directors, to admit that you get story ideas here) Valley News Live asked university officials about the propriety of using the airplane.

And in the story, NDSU claims that not a dollar of tuition or tax dollars has been used to pay for the plane.

Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

I’m not sure I believe the claim. If experience has taught me anything, it’s not to trust much of what the university system says. I’ve put in a request for a list of the “donors and private investors” who are supposedly paying for the plane. And I’d also point out that while NDSU claims $100,000 in revenues from renting the plane out to other users, according to an AP report last year the university is spending more than $500,000 year to operate it.

I’m also not sure why it matters if the funds for the airplane come from tax payers/students as opposed to other sources. Even if NDSU isn’t using tax dollars, or tuition revenues, for the airplane the money is still coming from somewhere. The plane is using resources available to the university system.

At a time when students are being saddled with higher tuition every year, at a time when the taxpayers’ obligation to higher education in the state spirals continually upward, the folks at NDSU are prioritizing these resources not toward defraying costs to taxpayers or students but rather to ensuring that the university’s elite have a luxury like a private airplane at their beck and call.

It is an extravagance that ought not exist at NDSU, an institution that not so long ago was claiming they’d have to cut core academic programs due to funding shortages. Is that the priorities we want from university leadership? A willingness to cut into academics, but not perks for administrators like a private airplane?

Yesterday a round-trip to the legislature and back by the airplane cost an estimated $8,400 (based on the hourly cost of operating the airplane).

Does that really sound like an efficient, prudent use of the university’s resources, with tuition and higher ed spending both going through the roof?