The leadership issue at Haskell Indian Nations University has been clarified but not in a particularly positive way.
In a letter dated Nov. 1, a U.S. Department of the Interior official notified members of the Haskell community that the school’s current president, Linda Sue Warner, had taken another position within the Bureau of Indian Affairs and would not be returning to her job at Haskell. Larry Echo Hawk expressed his appreciation for Warner’s service and indicated that Chris Redman will continue to serve as Haskell’s acting president. In the meantime, the vacant position will be advertised, and the search will begin for a permanent replacement for Warner.
It’s unfortunate that Haskell will lose the able leadership of Warner, but it is positive news, in a way, that federal officials finally have clarified the leadership position at Haskell. Warner had been shipped away from the Lawrence campus for more than a year while filling BIA positions in other states. During that time, Haskell has had three different acting presidents. The lack of stable, capable leadership hampers Haskell’s progress in many ways.
Warner, who came to Haskell in 2007, encountered resistance from some members of the Haskell community, including the Haskell Board of Regents which voted twice to seek her removal as president. It’s hard to know exactly what triggered their disapproval but such a response isn’t unusual when a university leader wants to make significant changes.
After the second “no confidence” vote last May, the president of the Haskell regents said, “It’s time to move on” from Warner’s leadership. It seems the regents now will get their wish.
Recent actions and policies by some at Haskell have placed the university’s continued academic accreditation in jeopardy. Warner tried to improve and broaden the academic offerings of the school but was rebuffed by those who wanted to keep Haskell’s traditional academic environment.
Haskell could be this country’s foremost academic institution for American Indians. However, there will have to be strong, visionary leadership from the president’s office, and the Haskell regents will have to be motivated by what is in the best interests of preparing college-age American Indians for stimulating, productive roles in today’s society. Members of Congress also most provide more than just minimal fiscal support for the school.
It’s regrettable that Warner was removed and that federal officials took so long to clarify Haskell’s leadership situation. Now, however, that has happened, and BIA officials should move as quickly as possible to fill the vacancy at Haskell with a visionary and capable leader who can help move the American Indian school forward.
Education at all levels of this country is facing severe challenges and none is as acute and pressing as the situation at Haskell.