Port: It's about politics, not academic freedom

The organization at issue is Planned Parenthood, one of the most rabidly partisan organizations operating in America today, which has been funding researchers at North Dakota State University for something like a decade now.

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Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, presents a bill amendment on the state Senate floor on Feb. 18, 2021, that would ban North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota from partnering with groups that provide abortions. (Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature)
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MINOT, N.D. — Wanna hear a joke?

A noisy contingent from North Dakota's university system, as well as their sundry apologists, are upset about an amendment to legislation that would withhold some matching tax dollars, under the challenge grants program, for state schools that partner with abortion providers.

This is an affront to academic freedom, they tell us.

Keep politics out of higher education, they say.

The punch line?


The organization at issue is Planned Parenthood, one of the most rabidly partisan organizations operating in America today, which has been funding researchers at North Dakota State University for something like a decade now.

Note that I wrote "partisan" and not "ideological." That's a distinction with a difference. Planned Parenthood isn't promoting a set of ideas. They're promoting Democrats.

In the 2020 cycle, the amount of money Planned Parenthood donated to federal Republican candidates was exactly $0 .

The 2018 cycle? $0 .

The 2016 cycle? $0 .

Hell, even the National Rifle Association occasionally throws a few bucks at a Democratic candidate here and there.

Much of the debate around this amendment, backed vociferously by ardently pro-life Sen. Janne Myrdal, a Republican from Edinburg, and maybe that issue leaves some people cold. The legislation doesn't mention partisan politics. It's aimed at support for abortion. I understand why that gives some pause.

Still, those making the "academic freedom" and "free from politics" arguments have it exactly backward.


Letting money from a group like Planned Parenthood in the door is a threat to "academic freedom."

If you want to keep higher education free from politics (stop laughing), then don't partner with a thoroughly partisan group like Planned Parenthood or any groups with similarly partisan ties to Republicans.

Want to feel a bit more frustrated at the hypocrisy surrounding this situation?

The challenge grants program was during the 2013 legislative session. It matches $1 in state funding for every $2 in nonstate, nonfederal funding raised by the state's universities. The program was intended to be used for education, and academic freedom has certainly been the rallying cry for those defending NDSU's partnership with Planned Parenthood, but when the matching dollars were first made available, some of our state's schools immediately began using them for sports scholarships .

The dollars were meant to promote research and learning, and our universities tried to use them to help fill out their sports teams.

Thankfully, lawmakers put a stop to that during the 2015 session.

Now, in this new debate about challenge grant dollars, the universities are posturing as if they're paragons of academic virtue.

If they were, they would recognize how deeply problematic a partnership with a group like Planned Parenthood is.


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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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