A meeting this week with Haskell Indian Nations University President Linda Sue Warner and members of the Haskell Board of Regents should give the Bureau of Indian Affairs a good opportunity to assess the controversy that continues to rumble at the Lawrence school.
It was only fair to give Warner a chance to get her feet on the ground after becoming the Haskell president in 2007, but evidence is mounting that it is time for the BIA take a hard look at Warner’s leadership and the complaints it has stirred among Haskell alumni, staff and students.
Among the problems was the announcement two weeks ago that the Haskell Endowment Association would disband. Although the association’s whole reason for existence was to raise money for the school, board members said they had received no cooperation from Warner or her office and no response to letters and e-mails seeking meetings with Warner. The loss of the endowment and the $90,000 it transferred to the American Indian College fund certainly is a blow to Haskell.
Last week, a student who had been an outspoken critic of Warner told reporters she had been graduated and kicked out of her dorm during the break between fall and spring semesters. In published reports, Warner has said Haskell officials waived a required course and advanced the student to graduation because she had enough hours to graduate and they needed to make room for another student. This sounds irregular to say the least.
Last August, the Haskell Board of Regents asked the BIA to remove Warner as president, citing concerns about possible irregularities in accounting, procurement and hiring at Haskell. The board of regents has no power to fire Warner, but members sought this week’s meeting with BIA officials in Washington, D.C., at least in part to discuss the regents’ role at the school.
Both the regents and Warner were scheduled to be in Washington this week anyway to attend a reception at the National Museum of the American Indian to honor 125 years of Haskell’s existence. It’s unfortunate that such a proud occasion also is marked by dissension.
Haskell is an important asset to Lawrence, as well as a significant part of the nation’s American Indian culture and history. Leading such a unique and diverse school is a difficult task, and early criticism of Warner could be dismissed largely as the kind of dissatisfaction that often occurs during a change of top administrators. Now, however, Warner’s lack of support and communication, coupled with specific examples of some puzzling policies and actions, seems to justify further examination by BIA officials. Hopefully that will occur at this week’s meeting in Washington.