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AS I SEE IT

Posted 2/02/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

North Dakota State University’s president Dean Bresciani is catching a fair amount of heat for his decision to fly first class to India on a recruiting trip. And that criticism, which is coming from North Dakota legislators, the state’s media, as well as his boss, North Dakota University Chancellor Mark Hagerott, is well deserved.
At the crux of the issue was Bresciani’s decision to upgrade his flight from a “coach” ticket to a “business class” ticket, a $6,000 upgrade, that resulted in the university being stuck with a bill for $8,300 for his ticket. To put that figure in perspective, two other NDSU staffers also accompanied Bresciani to India, but they flew “coach” with their tickets only costing the university around $2,000 a pop.
Which begs the question, “Why does the president think flying business class is just fine for him when his staffers fly like regular citizens?”
The obvious answer must be that Bresciani thinks of himself as being much more important than other NDSU employees. Or for that matter any other state employee. The university system explicitly bans state-funded first-class travel, and NDSU’s travel policy only permits reimbursement of “tourist or coach fare.” According to that policy, tickets must be “purchased at the lowest reasonable rate available, except when approved by the President.” So the president must have approved his own purchase of the business class ticket.
And that decision isn’t apparently sitting too well with his boss, Hagerott, who called the expenditure for the trip “an embarrassment” and said travel rules would be changed so a similar incident wouldn’t happen again.
According to a news article, Hagerott was quoted as saying, “The perception is, wow, we’re paying for luxury and I certainly don’t want people who pay these taxes, who build these wonderful universities, to think they’re paying for luxury. We’re public servants and this will just clear the air on that.”
Hagerott is right. North Dakota is facing tough financial times, and with all state agencies and universities facing budget cuts, government employees, even university presidents, need to be held accountable when they decide that the public’s money can be spent extravagantly.
Being the president of the state’s largest university is a very prestigious position. But with that prestige comes the responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner and form that the typical North Dakotan would expect of a state employee.
And, in this case, Bresciani crossed the line. And he should be forced to personally repay North Dakota State University for the $6,000 difference in ticket prices.
It would be a good first step on Bresciani’s part to make amends with his boss. And it would go a long way in soothing some of the anger that many North Dakota legislators are feeling.