Last week we got some interesting news from North Dakota State University about the funding sources for their controversial airplane.
NDSU had apparently told reporters from Valley News Live that the source of funds was private donors and investors, but when I filed an open records request asking for a list of those donors and investors, NDSU admitted that none exist. Rather, according to NDSU General Counsel Christopher Wilson, the source of funds for the roughly $1 million biennial cost of the airplane is interest from the university’s accounts maintained at the Bank of North Dakota as well as money attached to research grants the university receives.
Talking with my sources in higher ed, the use of these research dollars for an airplane for university administrators seems very problematic.
I asked for a list of grants from which these funds were pulled, and I got the 14 page list below from Mr. Wilson. To be clear, the funds come from “indirect cost recoveries” or “facilities and administrative” costs, which are pools of money intended to help the universities defray the costs of administering research grants. Federal grants are governed by the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-21, and NDSU itself has policy covering the use of grant funds.
It seems the use of these funds for NDSU’s airplane might be technically allowable. Perhaps not surprisingly, the legalese in the policies governing the use of these funds seems calculated to give the appearance of control and accountability if not the reality.
But in the real world I wonder how many of NDSU’s researchers know that part of their grant funds meant to address and facilitate their research is instead being used to fly around university big-wigs in a private airplane?
Should the research dollars taxpayers dole through federal, state and local governments to NDSU really be used for something that is more about the comfort and prestige of pampered university officials than the research itself?
For that matter, should interest income from the university’s financial accounts be used for such extravagances, instead of defraying the cost of NDSU to students and taxpayers?
This entire sorry spectacle illustrates once again the poor priorities of NDSU’s officials. Research, students and good stewardship of tax dollars takes a back seat to lavish perks for the university elite.