Clarifying the leadership situation at Haskell Indian Nations University is essential to getting the school moving in a positive direction again. The extended absence of Haskell President Linda Sue Warner has created a leadership vacuum that has triggered distracting divisions among faculty and students.
During a visit to Haskell on Thursday, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk confirmed that Warner is among the finalists to become the new director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Warner should receive serious consideration to fill the post. It would be good for Haskell and Indian education across the country. Whether Warner moves into the new position or returns to Haskell full-time, EchoHawk is right in saying that restoring strong leadership at Haskell is a top priority.
EchoHawk’s visit is a clear step toward getting Haskell and its leadership team back on track. For that reason, it’s hard to understand the reaction of Haskell Board of Regents President George Tiger. Even though Tiger agreed that EchoHawk’s visit to Haskell was long overdue, he expressed irritation with the “aggressive” actions of U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback to spur the visit. He contended that the senators should focus their attention on obtaining more money for Haskell. “That should be at the forefront of this,” he said.
Tiger is getting the cart before the horse. It makes no sense to simply throw more money at an institution that is plagued by poor leadership and administrative chaos. The Haskell regents should be grateful that the two Kansas senators were able to apply enough pressure to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs to pay attention to the situation at Haskell.
Without what Tiger termed the “aggressive” actions by Roberts and Brownback, Haskell would continue to be mired in turf battles with internal factions that oppose elevating Haskell’s academic program so it can better prepare its students to meet today’s employment and career demands.
The Haskell regents don’t have the same authority over the operation of the university that the Kansas Board of Regents has over state universities. Federal officials oversee the administration of Haskell and hire and fire its president. Without action at the federal level, there is little chance of improving the deplorable leadership situation.
Until the leadership at Haskell gets back on a firm footing, it will be extremely difficult for the state’s elected representatives in Congress to push for additional funding for the school. That’s the first step. While elected officials look for additional federal money, the Haskell regents also should step up their efforts to raise private donations for the school.
EchoHawk outlined positive goals for Haskell. Working to provide quality four-year degrees and improve graduation rates are the immediate priorities, he said, followed by the possibility of adding graduate programs at the school.
But it all begins with leadership. Haskell regents should thank the Kansas senators for their efforts to remedy the leadership dilemma and get on board with plans that could make Haskell an institution that both federal officials and private donors will be eager to support.