Haskell Indian Nations University needs a full-time president, and questions about who should be leading the campus could begin to be answered as early as next week, a federal official said Thursday.
Larry EchoHawk, U.S. assistant secretary for Indian affairs, confirmed during a visit to campus Thursday that Haskell’s incumbent president, Linda Sue Warner, was among seven finalists for a job in Washington: director of the Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees Haskell and other post-secondary institutions, and provides funding for 183 K-12 schools that educate 42,000 students.
While Warner currently retains the title of Haskell president, she’s been detailed to out-of-state postings since September. Haskell has been led by a succession of interim presidents since then, as faculty and staff at Haskell have been divided over issues including those involving Warner’s leadership, vision and goals.
“What I have learned here, and what I think ought to happen, is that the new Bureau of Indian Education director and I are on the same page,” EchoHawk said, noting that he could hire a director as early as next week. “Then I think we’ll be able to take the next step.”
That next step would be settling Haskell’s leadership void, an issue raised by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., in a recent meeting with EchoHawk and his boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The lawmakers have blamed a “lack of leadership” at Haskell and the Bureau of Indian Education for causing “chaos and confusion to the detriment” of Haskell employees and students, among other concerns.
After talking with more than 200 Haskell students, faculty, staff and alumni Thursday in the Haskell auditorium, EchoHawk acknowledged such “unsettling” leadership issues.
“I think this university deserves stable leadership … and I don’t think it’s a good thing when you have division among faculty and administration about what the direction of the university should be,” EchoHawk said. “I think we ought to have a unified system, where everybody’s pretty much on the same team, moving in the same direction.”
The direction: Use existing resources to provide quality four-year degrees and improve graduation rates at Haskell, he said. Next would be the possibility of adding graduate programs.
George Tiger, president of the Haskell Board of Regents, said that he was encouraged by EchoHawk’s “long-overdue” visit to campus.
He took exception, however, with what he described as the “aggressive” actions of Roberts and Brownback that prompted the visit in the first place.
“That aggressiveness needs to be used to get some funding,” Tiger said, after EchoHawk’s presentation. “That should be at the forefront of this.”
Tiger said he had asked EchoHawk to “strengthen the authority” of Haskell’s regents, to stretch beyond the current role of approving university policies.