It’s good that members of the Kansas delegation in Congress are continuing to press for answers concerning the unsettled situation at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Having received no response to an October letter to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Sen. Pat Roberts, along with Sen. Sam Brownback and Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Dennis Moore, announced Tuesday that they had sent a letter outlining their concerns about Haskell to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
It’s high time that federal officials address the Kansans’ concerns. During the four months Roberts was stonewalled and awaiting a response from BIA, rumors and accusations have been flying concerning what appears to be a rapidly deteriorating situation at Haskell. As part of his October letter, Roberts forwarded a letter from a former Haskell vice president who alleged mismanagement of personnel, ethics violations and other problems at the school. Why such problems seemed unworthy of a timely response from federal officials is a mystery. Perhaps some at Haskell were involved in delay tactics.
Haskell President Linda Warner was reassigned last September to the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., then sent to a temporary assignment in Oklahoma City. Although she retains the title of president at Haskell, she hasn’t been on the job in Lawrence for about six months.
During that time, her duties have been handled by others, including Venida Chenault, who was named Haskell’s acting president. Chenault told the Journal-World Tuesday that although funding for Haskell had been flat for the past decade, “we’re using limited resources efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of tribal people.”
Despite her reassurances, the congressional delegation remains concerned that there appears to be no clear line of authority at Haskell or the Bureau of Indian Education and that “the resulting lack of leadership has caused chaos and confusion to the detriment of HINU employees and the students.” Their perception of chaos and confusion at Haskell is supported by an outpouring of accusations and displeasure on various local Web sites.
The current situation is taking a toll at this important school. Haskell isn’t simply standing still; it is moving backward. Accreditation visits that were canceled by a Haskell employee for two new bachelor degree programs last year are just one indication of the school’s regression.
Haskell plays an important role in Lawrence and an even more important role among American Indian tribes throughout the nation. Sorting out the current situation, ensuring the return of strong leadership at the school and focusing on programs and academic excellence to prepare students for career opportunities are essential to Haskell being able to move forward again. The Kansas delegation shouldn’t wait four months for an answer from Salazar. Haskell needs help now.