It appears the time has come for a deep, thorough investigation of what is going on at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Haskell is a unique and important university, and it deserves every opportunity to fulfill its mission of helping prepare American Indians to be involved, contributing members of today’s “real world.”
It’s a good school, but it has the potential to be a far better academic institution. However, it cannot and will not rise to higher levels of excellence and become a nationally recognized and prized university for American Indians unless it has stable, enlightened leadership.
Over the years, there have been far too many changes in leadership at the school. There also have been and currently are elements within the faculty who make it extremely difficult to develop a sound, forward-looking academic curriculum.
Earlier this week, it was learned Haskell President Linda Warner had been shuffled off to some relatively minor Indian-related position in Oklahoma City.
Warner is an able, highly educated administrator, but, apparently, internal politics within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education or actions and lack of cooperation by some at Haskell all have combined to keep her from initiating and overseeing a sound academic program for the benefit of Haskell students.
Before shifting Warner to Oklahoma City, powers within the BIA or BIE had her moved to a position in the Albuquerque, N.M., area.
Word of the internal mess at Haskell leaked out through a letter signed by Ted Wright, who spent a year as Haskell’s vice president for university services. In the letter, addressed to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and all members of Congress, Wright asks for a thorough internal investigation of the school. He wrote, “Unfortunately, Haskell employs a group of about seven individuals who actively work against the administration. This group has been vocal, and since the BIE maintains a policy that does not allow administrators to respond, only misinformation, rumor and innuendoes are spread to the public, to the students and to Congress.”
He added, “I agree with a recent blog that said this should be embarrassing to BIE officials; it was embarrassing to me as a native person that the very group of people who should have native students in mind actually worked to create an environment of fictional drama on campus that was detrimental to the University’s attempt to live up to its potential.”
He then lists numerous situations that he thinks illustrate the immediate need for an investigation. Some of these cover areas such as ethics, hiring policies and budget/money issues.
He said, “You have many issues in Interior; I wonder where Indian students fit in your priorities?”
This letter was dated Oct. 8, 2009, and, according to those close to the situation, there has been no response from Salazar and, until recently, no response from members of Congress indicating they intend to check into what appears to be a very ugly situation at Haskell.
It should be embarrassing, but the reaction or response to Wright’s letter or Warner’s efforts seems to be for Indian officials to try to make Warner disappear, get rid of her.
She is a member of the Comanche tribe and has a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., a master’s in education from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. She has held senior positions at the Tennessee State Board of Regents, the University of Missouri and the National Science Foundation.
Haskell would benefit greatly by her leadership.
The sad part of this story is that officials of the BIE, BIA and Interior Department either don’t care or don’t think this is a sufficiently important situation to respond to Wright’s letter or provide information to those in Congress who have asked for information.
Apparently, they think they don’t have to reply and are not answerable to anyone.
Lawrence residents should be concerned. Haskell, founded in 1884, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating BIA educational facility. It currently has approximately 1,000 students representing about 135 tribes from close to 40 states. It’s an important university.
If Lawrence and Douglas County did not have Kansas University and Baker University, local residents would be doing everything they could to help Haskell.
Just as Kansas legislators face severe economic conditions that limit the number of dollars they can allocate to KU, the same situation applies to Congress and what it can, or wishes to, appropriate for Haskell. Even so, it seems Congress has shortchanged Haskell and thereby has limited what the school has been able to achieve in providing an excellent educational facility for American Indians.
The current situation needs to be examined and certainly BIA, BIE and Interior Department officials should make such an investigation a top priority. Also, they should respond immediately to members of Congress asking for information about what is going on at Haskell.
As Wright said in his letter, the current situation is an embarrassment.