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NDSU spent $8.3K for Bresciani's business class travel; chancellor to investigate

President Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University, gives his State of the University address Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – The chancellor of the university system plans to investigate whether North Dakota State University's president was out of line when he flew business class to India on Friday for a recruiting trip.

NDSU paid about $8,300 for President Dean Bresciani's round-trip ticket to Bangalore, India, with stops in Minneapolis and Paris, according to travel records requested by The Forum. He will return Tuesday.

Sitting in the second row, Bresciani will have the nicest-possible seats on all of his flights, according to Delta seating charts. These flights do not offer first class.

Bresciani is flying business class despite an NDSU travel policy that permits reimbursement only 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."

On Wednesday, a person could buy a round-trip ticket similar to Bresciani's for about $1,400 in coach, or about $12,100 in business class.

Bresciani is accompanied on his trip by Kalidas Shetty, the NDSU associate vice president for international partnerships and collaborations, and Prakash Mathew, former vice president for student affairs, who retired in 2014.

Shetty was approved to spend an estimated $2,100 on transportation for the trip, records show. NDSU did not have travel expense records for Mathew.

University presidents are not required to seek the approval of the chancellor before they take overseas trips, though North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said Wednesday that he knew about Bresciani's trip a month ago.

"It's just professional courtesy that you let your boss know that you're going to be traveling out of the country," Hagerott said.

But Hagerott did not know then how much the trip would cost. Now that he does, his office will look into whether that fare was appropriate.

The university system explicitly bans state-funded first-class travel, but has no policy regarding business class, spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said in an email.

"We will have to study it in more detail," she wrote.

Bresciani has faced legislative criticism before about his modes of transportation, including the use of a private airplane and a security liaison who drove him.

The overseas recruiting trip is Bresciani's first as NDSU president. It first became a point of contention earlier this week when Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, emailed fellow state legislators to condemn the effort, which he chalked up to the president's 18,000-student enrollment goal.

"I find it very disturbing that we have the taxpayers of North Dakota being forced to subsidize the education of international students to advance the hypothetical status of an institution," Skarphol wrote.

Hagerott said the 18,000-student goal is still being studied, though, and he talked to Bresciani about that before the trip.

"I had said, 'Well OK, I just want to make sure it isn't about a whole bunch of undergrads,' " he recalled Wednesday.

In an email to Hagerott, Bresciani said the trip "has nothing to do with undergrads" and that he is seeking graduate students in science, engineering, technology and math, for which business leaders are "desperate."

Hagerott defended that effort.

"I mean, we are North Dakota's school system, but we do want to have diversity, we do want to have really highly qualified researchers to come build our programs," he said.

Grace Lyden

Grace Lyden is the higher education reporter for The Forum. Previously, she interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2014. She welcomes story ideas via email or phone. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com.

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