Haskell formally resolves to gain more autonomy from federal government, create Endowment Association

The campus of Haskell Indian Nations University.

Haskell Indian Nations University has formally resolved to move toward more autonomy from the federal government, including studying the possibility of becoming federally chartered instead of federally operated.

The Haskell Board of Regents on Thursday approved a resolution to study ways for increasing Haskell’s autonomy and authority, and to pursue permanent legislation that would enable Haskell to establish an Endowment Association.

As part of the process, according to the resolution, “The National Haskell Board of Regents will engage in legislative action determined appropriate for the university, with the Bureau of Indian Education and Congress for the implementation of a federal charter model, with efficient operating systems appropriate for a university.”

Haskell President Venida Chenault said it’s critical to protect the role that Haskell historically has served to Native Americans but that the current operating model is so cumbersome that it holds the university back.

“The board is taking a very proactive approach to study of and identification of actions that need to be taken on behalf of Haskell,” Chenault said.

“What are the changes needed at Haskell to allow it to operate as the university it is?”

The Bureau of Indian Education runs Haskell, as well as one other postsecondary school, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in New Mexico.

Haskell is required to go through federal processes for construction contracts, procurement, hiring and more, which school officials have said are time consuming and difficult to maneuver.

Haskell’s federal funding has remained flat for a number of years, but federal rules don’t allow the school to solicit outside funds to bolster its budget.

Haskell expects to receive about $12 million in federal allocated funds this year, though under the school’s federal funding formula, it should receive about $1 million more, Steve Byington of the Haskell budget office told Regents during the financial report Thursday.

The majority of Haskell’s budget, almost 70 percent, goes to payroll, and Chenault said that even as cost of living has increased, funding has stayed flat, forcing the school to absorb the difference.

Chenault named federally chartered Howard University in Washington, D.C., as a possible new model for Haskell.

Along with exploring new operating models and pursuing an Endowment Association for Haskell, Regents also will “engage in legislative actions” to ensure the university continues to get federal funding — including money for continued maintenance — and promote financial support and donations for Haskell, according to the resolution.

For now, the recently revived Haskell Foundation is working as a private arm to do some things on behalf of the university.

The foundation has been managing research and other grants to Haskell, working to mobilize alumni, developing marketing materials and taking in some donations for athletics.

“Eventually we want to get an endowment secured,” executive director Marisa Mendoza told the Regents. “But we’re just not at the point to do that yet.”