Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lack of federal funding leaves Haskell’s plans in limbo

April 22, 2006

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Ryan Wilson, left, president of the National Indian Education Assn., greets Alexis Mendez, a Haskell Indian Nations University junior from Fort Ducheson, Utah, at a school gathering in January. Wilson urged the university to lobby lawmakers about federal funding issues during his visit.

Ryan Wilson, left, president of the National Indian Education Assn., greets Alexis Mendez, a Haskell Indian Nations University junior from Fort Ducheson, Utah, at a school gathering in January. Wilson urged the university to lobby lawmakers about federal funding issues during his visit.

These are not the best of times at Haskell Indian Nations University.

Earlier this year, the college learned that its:

¢ Maintenance department's $4.1 million budget had taken a $600,000 cut. It's also short of the $60,000 needed to cover workers' cost-of-living pay raises.

¢ Utilities budget wouldn't cover a $240,000 spike in natural gas costs.

¢ Operational budget - faculty and staff salaries, primarily - had been cut $238,000.

These are major reductions.

"We're in some dire circumstances," said Haskell budget director Michael Lewis.

A mid-February review of the university's overall operations won a reprieve worth about $190,000 - nice, but not enough to offset the prospects for deep cuts in spending.

In an earlier Journal-World interview, Lewis warned many maintenance workers could be furloughed - sent home without pay - for the summer, some course offerings might be reduced, and reliance on adjunct faculty might be increased.

A decision on furloughs is expected this month.

Most faculty members were furloughed in 2001 and 2002 after it became clear the university couldn't afford the $400,000 needed to offer summer classes. They remain furloughed.

Solely a product of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Haskell's budget has not kept pace with inflation for several years.

The university's charter prevents it from charging tuition. It cannot levy taxes.

For several weeks, Haskell officials have been studying ways to maintain the university's mission while adjusting to cuts in spending.

"We're reviewing all programs and services to determine the strengths of the university and to identify where existing resources can be best spent," said Venida Chenault, vice president of academic affairs at Haskell.

They're also looking for ways to diversify the university's finances.

"We are examining ways for students, alumni and tribes to invest in Haskell and supplement the appropriations we receive," Chenault said.

There are no plans, she said, to cut costs by lowering enrollment.

"We will maintain enrollment," she said.

In recent years, Haskell has limited its enrollment to between 900 and 1,000 students.

Not all the news is bad. Chenault noted U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., had promised to keep a close eye on Haskell's budget during this year's deliberations.

And grant funds are available for a full-time director for an endowment dedicated to raising funds for Haskell.

Despite all the dark clouds, the university's mission of providing higher education opportunities for American Indian students, Chenault said, remains unchanged.

"We have to recognize that resources are tightening - this is going on all over Indian country," she said. "But that doesn't mean you walk away from your mission; it means you find new ways to carry out that mission. We remain committed to quality."

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