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ND bill aimed at NDSU president would prevent donors from paying expenses

FARGO - A state legislator has drafted a bill that would ban university foundations from reimbursing or paying the expenses of presidents and vice presidents--legislation that he said was inspired by North Dakota State University President Dean B...

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
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 – A state legislator has drafted a bill that would ban university foundations from reimbursing or paying the expenses of presidents and vice presidents-legislation that he said was inspired by North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani.

"I don't see why they should be picking up upgraded flights, dinners or what not," Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said of the NDSU Foundation. "That should be his own expense, not donors that we don't know who they are."

Bresciani was criticized for flying in business class to India earlier this year-a ticket that cost about $8,300. Donors picked up the tab, he said in an email to campus.

From the beginning of January 2015 to the end of January 2016, the NDSU Foundation spent about $70,300 on the president, according to records obtained by The Forum. That included business dinners, parties at the president's house and dues to the Fargo Country Club.

"Just pay for your own membership," said Streyle, who had also seen those records. "You make $350,000 a year and a free house and everything else. I don't see why the foundation should be paying for (the country club)."

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Streyle said it isn't transparent when donors, whose names are exempt from state open records law, give money for the president's personal use. He also doesn't believe it's part of the mission of university foundations.

"I think they should be entirely focused on the student, period. Nothing else," he said.

For Streyle, that includes endowments, scholarships and capital improvements, "but some of this other stuff, I don't understand how it's helping the students.

"Paying a country club membership, I suppose you could argue that he's out there trying to get donor money, golfing with potential donors. I mean, you can spin it whatever way you want."

The country club membership cost the foundation about $11,300 in just over a year. Bresciani's expenses during that timeframe also included about $33,600 on alcohol, parties and catering for his Fargodome suite.

Streyle said he was worried about the possibility of a donor exerting influence over Bresciani after giving money to the president through the foundation.

"When you're financially helping a very prominent person who has a lot of authority to divert funds and input on projects, to me, it's just how business works: You get to know the decision maker, and then you have influence over him, and I just don't want any perception of that," Streyle said. "I'm not saying there's that going on, but we don't know."

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Foundation directors and trustees declined to comment on Streyle's proposal after their meeting Wednesday afternoon. Foundation President and CEO John Glover released a statement noting the long history of philanthropic support for higher education, including university leaders.

"The leaders of today's institutions are critical in sharing the vision, a story of impact and a future of hope," he said in an email. "We need their involvement in fostering public-private partnerships that make a difference to support the university's mission."

After The Forum requested an interview with Bresciani, university spokeswoman Sadie Rudolph released this statement: "We look forward to the discussions around important issues for higher education in the upcoming legislative session."

Streyle said he would not introduce the bill until the session begins in January.

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