Archive for Thursday, May 11, 2006

Haskell president to retire

Announcement comes amid decline in federal support for Indian education

May 11, 2006


Haskell Indian Nations University President Karen Swisher on Wednesday said she planned to step down in December or January.

"It's been a privilege to serve the university," Swisher said. "And I want to thank all of those who had confidence in me and who encouraged me to take this job."

Swisher, 62, came to Haskell in 1996. She has been president for seven years.

She announced her decision to retire at the end of a daylong meeting Wednesday of the university's Board of Regents.

A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, Swisher said her decision was driven by two factors:

¢ "I've been working since I was 21; that's 42 years, that's long enough."

¢ "We're getting near the end of the five-year strategic plan that I helped develop, so the timing is right."

Swisher's announcement wasn't completely unexpected.

"I can't say I'm surprised, considering the number of years she's put in," said Bill Welton, vice president of the faculty senate.

"The concern now is who's going to take her place," he said. "Up to now, (Swisher) has been a known quantity who's done a lot of good things. Now, there's uncertainty. We don't know if the next president is going to have the same priorities."

"We've appreciated all her efforts over the years," said business instructor Mary Cofran. "It hasn't been easy for her."

Mitzi Robinson, a sophomore from El Reno, Okla., said new leadership could be good for the university.

"I'm excited for Haskell," Robinson said. "I think they need to get someone in there who'll be more involved with the student body."

Squeezed budgets

Swisher's decision comes amid steady declines in federal support for Indian education.

"We've lost a million dollars in buying power since 2000," Haskell budget director Michael Lewis said Wednesday.

Lewis warned that resources that were used to offset almost a $1 million shortfall in this year's budget won't be available next year.

"What we're hearing is that we'll probably be getting an additional $158,000 next year," Lewis said. "That may sound like an increase, but at the same time our COLAs (cost-of-living pay raises) - which we're required to pay, we don't have a choice - will be $228,000."

Haskell's budget is set by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency within the U.S. Department of Interior.

Earlier, a BIA spokeswoman pinned the spending cuts on congressional mandates driven by Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq and tax cuts.

But records show Haskell's classroom budget was $9.1 million from 2003 through 2005.

Swisher noted that in recent years, Haskell has not been able to replace each member of the faculty who has resigned or retired. To compensate, she said, the university has relied increasingly on adjunct and volunteer faculty.

"At this time, we have 14 and a half positions vacant," said Venida Chenault, Haskell's vice president of academic affairs.

Budget woes forced Haskell to drop its summer school program almost five years ago. Consequently, most of the faculty is laid off for the summer.

Michael Tosee, acting dean of liberal arts and sciences, said a recent faculty poll found that most spend $1,000 per year on their classes.

"That's out of their personal funds," he said.

Several Regents vowed to lobby their congressmen for additional support, though few expressed much optimism.

"I think it's fairly obvious Haskell is going to continue to face additional cuts in spending, given the world situation we're in," said Regent Lana Redeye.

Today, the Regents are hosting a "Tribal Leaders Summit" aimed at gauging tribes' willingness to help with Haskell's finances.

"We want to let them know what we do here, what our needs are and the role that Haskell plays in Indian Country," said Regents President Gil Vigil.

A long career

Swisher grew up on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. She earned a bachelor's degree at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of North Dakota.

Before becoming director at the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University, Swisher taught in both public and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.

Her career at Haskell began in 1996 when she was appointed chairwoman of the Teacher Education Department. Later she served as dean of instruction.

Swisher's tenure has not been easy. Shortly after taking office, three Haskell students were killed in a drunken-driving accident. She's had to referee contentious disputes over the university's response to the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway.

Also, she had to steer the university through the controversy caused by the Haskell Foundation being forced into bankruptcy after its then-director, Gerry Burd, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Confrontation 11 years, 11 months ago

I hope she realizes how lucky she is to have only worked 42 years.

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