UND has been using its planes to ferry administration and students on flights to and from Bismarck in order to present testimony on the Fighting Sioux name. In March, no less than 4 flights were made between Grand Forks and Bismarck for this purpose, which is confirmed by UND personnel.
Last week PlainsDaily.com made an open records request to UND, asking the university to disclose all of its flight information, including passenger manifests and actual UND Flight Operations report forms. The request was made after a private pilot, trained at UND, tipped off PlainsDaily that UND has made frequent flights in and out of Bismarck, and this number has spiked since the beginning of the legislative session.
In a search of private air records between Bismarck and Grand Forks, the UND Aerospace Foundation’s two most commonly used planes, both Beech C90A King Airs (double engine, 9 passenger aircraft), have made 59 flights between Grand Forks and Bismarck from January 7 – March 10, a 168% increase over the previous three months.
University spokesman Peter Johnson first acknowledged verbally last week that both March and January flights were made in connection with testifying on the Fighting Sioux nickname. The January hearing, when the official stance of the university was “neutral,” was held on January 26th.
During the January 26th hearing, Evan Andrist, UND’s State Governmental Affairs Commissioner, testified in opposition to the proposed legislation to keep the nickname, presenting the House Committee with a student resolution. Also testifying against the legislation was UND student William Crawford, a member of the Sisitunwan Wahpetunwan Oyate and two professors representing UND’s Campus Committee for Human Rights.
It is not clear how Andrist and the others traveled to and from Bismarck in January. The University did not supply any of their names along with the list of administration traveling for the bill in January, but has not provided any official documentation of the January flight manifests to confirm this. The university has officially stated that no travel reimbursements were requested by faculty members, students, or student organizations for travel to and from Bismarck for the purposes of testifying on the Sioux nickname bill in January.
The request for Andrist’s March UND air travel was made by the UND President’s office on January 25, when the University still officially held a neutral stance, according to the flight request record.
Andrist is included on the list of passengers who flew on UND planes to give testimony for the March 7 hearing on the bill, along with student Grant Hauschild (Vice President of the Student Body), Grant Shaft (SBHE), Peter Johnson (UND Public Relations), and pilot Bruce Smith. A second plane took President Kelley, Paul LeBel (UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs), Brian Faison (UND Athletics Director), Dean Bresciani (NDSU President), and Ty Rose (UND track and field team member).
The information coming from UND about these flights has been piecemeal, and often conflicting. During a phone conversation with this reporter, UND’s Peter Johnson stated that planes were used to transport UND administration in January to and from the hearing, but later in the week did not include that information on a spreadsheet containing flight information.
Of the 17 flights for which official documentation records were requested, only 6 were confirmed with actual documentation, and only 4 of those 6 included the flight logs and passenger sign-ins. The flights requested were all of the university’s flights between Grand Forks and Bismarck during the period of 1/24/2011 through 1/28/2011 and 3/4/2011 through 3/10/2011, the weeks of the two hearings.
This week the UND personnel have claimed that FERPA restrictions may prevent them from releasing the requested documentation verifying student travel on flights. The Attorney General’s office is now investigating the reasons behind UND’s slow response on all records requests and UND’s attempted redaction of student names.
When this reporter asked President Kelley’s office about the university’s official policy governing the requests and use of the university’s planes, along with a request for a copy of that policy, PlainsDaily was told: “According to the Director of Flight Operations, there is no UND policy; they follow FAA regulations.”
PlainsDaily.com was first told that all the flights between Bismarck and Grand Forks were “training flights,” but later received contradictory information from UND personnel and records. The flight records which were received did clearly indicate “Purpose: Transport President’s Office and staff” on all four of the actual flight logs provided. Official flight logs were not provided for any of the other 13 flights requested.
PlainsDaily has not received any response from UND personnel regarding whether or not university transportation was made available to students and faculty who supported the nickname, despite repeated requests. UND has also refused to answer questions regarding how students were selected to present testimony, and if equal transportation provision was made for students and faculty on both sides of the issue.
The university admits some of these flights are for the purposes of lobbying, but contends many of them are for training purposes. Without the requested official UND Flight Operations flight log documentation, it is impossible to verify this information. The twin engine King Airs are not included on the UND Aerospace website listing of planes frequently used for training.
The standard cost for operating this type of aircraft, not including pilot and ancillary expenses, falls between $1200 – $1500 an hour.