Just eight months after starting her job as president at Haskell Indian Nations University, Linda Warner is being scrutinized.
She is making a lot of small changes across the campus, but combined they have raised eyebrows. The biggest concern seems to be a possible 376 percent increase in student fees. Many think such an increase would decrease enrollment, or at worst put the university at risk of closure.
Concerns such as these have been articulated on a DVD titled "Trick or Treaty," which began circulating on the campus on Halloween. The DVDs were folded in an orange piece of paper that said "Justice is blind. Haskell is in danger of being closed. Do not fall for their tricks."
"Trick or Treaty" contains a 30-minute documentary that accuses former Haskell President Gerald E. Gipp of attempting to shut down Haskell in the 1980s. It also has a short segment, "Parallels of a Dictatorship," that implies that Warner is trying to do the same.
"I've cried every time I watch it," said Connie Hudson, a senior in American Indian studies.
Hudson said she just wants some openness and honesty about the changes Warner is making.
Those comments worry Warner more than the DVD.
"What I think should be of the biggest concern to people, not just me, is the fact that people are afraid, for some reason, to engage in face-to-face conversations and debates," she said.
Warner added that she couldn't imagine wanting to close Haskell, which has about 900 students.
"I've never talked about doing anything but adding programs to this campus," she said.
Student fee increase?
What seems to be of biggest concern to students and on "Trick or Treaty" is talk of raising student fees from $210 to $1,000. A petition has been circulating, and some students are concerned that the increase will take a toll on enrollment. It was a hot topic at recent Student Senate and Haskell Board of Regents meetings.
Warner said there is no proposal and the issue is just "under study." She said she wouldn't propose an increase without the support of the Board of Regents.
"I am sure the board will talk about it again and make a proposal or whatever, and once they make a proposal then it would go to (the U.S. Department of) Interior," she said.
Kevin Skenandore, acting director of the Bureau of Indian Education, said Warner can increase student fees. However, he said she "would need to consult and have discussion with the Board of Regents."
"Trick or Treaty" questions some of Warner's changes, such as why she took the football concessions away from students, why faculty and students can't send campuswide e-mails, and why Warner's executive assistant was appointed as an adviser to the student newspaper.
Warner said football concessions were contracted out because of problems with staffing and supplies.
"I took the recommendation from staff that we would contract out the concessions and try it out for a semester and see how that worked, and essentially the students would get the same amount of money but wouldn't have to work," Warner said. "It seemed to me like it was a win-win for everybody."
She said if the students wanted to control the concessions, she would give it back to them. Warner added that the Student Senate was supposed to run a concession stand Nov. 3 during a basketball game, but nobody showed up.
"So, there was an arena full of people and there was no soda, no water, no anything," she said.
As for campuswide e-mails, students and faculty were able to deliver one themselves until recently. Now, campuswide e-mails go through Lori Tapahonso, executive assistant. The policy changed because some people were sending files too large, causing the college's computer system to shut down.
Tapahonso also was appointed to serve as an adviser to the staff of The Indian Leader, Haskell's student newspaper, because of her journalism background and because Cecil Dawes, adviser for The Indian Leader, is retiring this semester. Warner hopes Tapahonso, also Haskell's public information officer, will help improve the newspaper because quality has been a concern.
Jimmy Lee Beason, The Indian Leader editor, said he wasn't happy that the staff had no say in whom the adviser would be. He said he was afraid Tapahonso might try to influence the paper. But so far, he said, she hasn't done that.
"Trick or Treaty" also states that Warner illegally hired a relative. Not true, she said, but added, "I could hire every one of my relatives as long as they are not a direct report to me and that's not against the law."
Skenandore agreed. He said the president has the authority to hire and fire personnel.
Fear of talking
Warner wishes those behind "Trick or Treaty" would have talked to her before circulating it on campus.
"If you had a real concern, you would come in here and ask me or you would stand up and say, 'I think X, Y or Z.' But they are not doing that," she said. "So somebody is encouraging people to be sort of almost terroristic in their tactics."
James Mountain Chief Sanderville, 54, who made the original 30-minute "Trick or Treaty" documentary some time ago, said he wasn't responsible for the section on Warner or it circulating on campus. But he thought is was "wonderful" it was being watched.
"People need to know the history of Haskell," he said. Sanderville was student body president in 1982 during the Gipp administration. Gipp was cleared of claims of nepotism and conflict of interest in 1989 by the Department of the Interior and moved to a position in Washington, D.C. Today, Gipp is the executive director of American Indian Higher Education.
Sanderville said he continues to fight for justice for American Indians at the federal and tribal levels. He said he wished that people could more freely question decisions that are made, but understands why they don't.
"You don't see activism in Indian Country," he said. "I really see what a whistleblower faces. If anyone starts questioning in Indian Country, they face internalized depression."
While students and faculty didn't want to go on record for the story, Skenandore said they are welcome to contact his office. They should contact Spike Bighorn, chief of staff at the Bureau of Indian Education, at (202) 208-6123.