The Kansas congressional delegation on Thursday sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, urging the agency to increase Haskell Indian Nations University's budget.
Drafted by U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., the letter was signed by each of the state's four congressmen and two senators.
"I contacted the other members of the Kansas congressional delegation and suggested that we join in sending this letter," Moore said. "I think it is important to show solidarity and support for Haskell Indian Nations University."
The university is in Moore's district.
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., issued a similar statement: Haskell "is a great educational institution and provides important services to the Native American community in Kansas and nationwide. My colleagues and I will continue to work to see that the needs of the university are met."
Brownback, Moore and Ryun serve on their chamber's respective budget committees.
Moore said he hadn't been able to speak with Brownback directly about the letter.
"But I spoke with Sen. (Pat) Roberts about it for about 10 minutes," he said. "I think it's clear that as a delegation, we're united on this. This is a bipartisan effort."
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Haskell's classroom budget - about $9.1 million a year - is set by the bureau. For several years, it has lagged inflation.
"We've lost a million dollars in buying power since 2000," Haskell budget director Michael Lewis said last week during a meeting of the university's board of regents.
Currently, 30 percent of the university's full-time faculty positions are vacant.
Haskell officials welcomed news of the delegation's letter.
"We're very appreciative and encouraged by efforts of the Kansas delegation," said Venida Chenault, vice president in charge of academic affairs at Haskell.
The letter comes on the heels of a Haskell-sponsored summit last week, during which tribal leaders vowed to lobby Congress directly, rather than always pleading with the bureau.
Moore said he was not contacted by a tribal leader prior to assembling the letter.
In the letter, Moore noted:
¢ Haskell's "science laboratories : are inadequate to provide the education experience needed for a four-year degree."
¢ Students fees were needed to supplement the on-campus meals program.
¢ Increased natural gas prices resulted in a $240,000 deficit in the utilities budget.
¢ Haskell plans to "cut faculty, offer fewer classes, and cut their class sizes" in the fall.
Haskell, Moore said, is one of two federally funded colleges for American Indians.
The other college, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., offers two-year degrees in science and technology. It, too, is reeling.
"We just had a reduction in force," said Valarie Montoya, interim president at the institute. "We lost about 25 out of 100 faculty positions, and our enrollment went from a high of 918 last year to about 700 this year."
The institute dropped its cross-country team - its only team - after the instructor who also served as coach saw his position cut from the budget.
"We are struggling," Montoya said.
Whether the Kansas delegation's letter does any good remains to be seen.
New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici, a Republican, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, sent a similar letter to the bureau last year.
"We got some more money - a little," Montoya said. "And then all federal agencies took an across-the-board cut after Hurricane Katrina and because of the war in Iraq. What we got, we lost."