Announcement comes as university continues to wait for Congress to approve appropriation

Haskell Indian Nations University’s already-tight budget just got tighter.

University president Karen Swisher on Thursday told an advisory committee that because Congress had not yet passed the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs budget for the coming year, Haskell had to restrict its spending to “essential needs.”

Until the new budget is passed, Haskell will hold its spending to last year’s levels.

“We have no choice,” Swisher told the university’s Board of Regents’ advocacy committee.

Assuming it’s approved, the new budget is expected to include $9,215,000 for Haskell  that’s $164,900 more than the 2002 budget. But for several months Haskell officials have warned that increases in health insurance premiums and employee salaries were expected to cost an additional $300,000.

Anticipating the shortfall, Haskell officials canceled this year’s summer classes. The university also accepted fewer fall-semester students and opted to leave some teaching and administrative positions vacant.

Last month, several students reported hearing rumors that Haskell might close, prompting Swisher to convene universitywide meetings to quash the unfounded reports.

Haskell’s situation is compounded, Swisher said, by the faculty and staff’s status as federal employees, who by law are prohibited from lobbying Congress. That burden, she said, belongs to the regents, alumni and students.

Before the committee began discussing ways to handle the shortfall, its members voted to meet in executive session in hopes of curbing further rumors and because some of the talk might touch on personnel issues.

Because the Board of Regents and its committees are considered “advisory,” their meetings are not subject to open meetings laws. Decisions affecting Haskell’s operations are made by Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The advocacy committee’s chairman, George Tiger, said the group would issue a statement today during the regular meeting of the full Board of Regents. The full board meets at least twice a year, usually in the fall and spring.

Jack Martin, communications director for U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., said Congress was not expected to pass the 2003 budget until after the Nov. 5 election even though the budget year began Oct. 1.

“Out of the 13 appropriation bills that pretty much define government spending, only one has passed  and that’s the defense appropriation,” Martin said.

“The congressman (Moore) shares their frustration,” he said. “He’s disappointed that leadership has been unable to finish the work that Congress is mandated to do.”

Martin encouraged Haskell supporters to call or write their congressional representative.