Complaint of nepotism by Haskell president unfounded, federal investigation finds

photo by: Conrad Swanson

A sign at the entrance to Haskell Indian Nations University is shown Friday, Aug. 5, 2016.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General has determined that complaints of nepotism by Haskell Indian Nations University President Venida Chenault are unfounded.

The DOI OIG investigation into allegations of nepotism and other misconduct at Haskell has been open more than two years, and the report summarizing conclusions was just made public in recent days.

The investigation delved into complaints from some Haskell employees and students about various issues, but alleged mismanagement by Chenault was at the root of them. As such, the DOI OIG rolled them into a single investigation, DOI OIG spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said.

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A previously publicized part of the DOI OIG investigation was a complaint of nepotism by Chenault, when her son Joshua Arce was appointed to a high-level position at Haskell.

The investigation’s existence was first reported in 2016, after former Haskell instructor Theresa Milk told the Journal-World she filed a nepotism complaint with the federal office. 

Arce, the school’s chief information officer, was chosen as acting dean of students, a temporary assignment.

The DOI OIG investigation found that Chenault’s presence in a meeting where candidates were discussed unduly influenced the selection of Arce.

However, the investigation found it was not true that Chenault told the supervisor to hire her son, as alleged, or that he received special treatment.

Arce served in that position for about nine months.

“The selection did not provide the family member any financial benefit or advancement, and other employees rotated through the position,” the DOI OIG report says. “Other allegations of the family member receiving preferential treatment from the President were also unfounded through a review of the family member’s travel records, performance evaluations, and personnel file.”

The Bureau of Indian Education initially investigated the nepotism complaint and found it unsubstantiated, which the DOI OIG confirmed, the report says.

Notably, shifts were made in Haskell’s organizational structure to maintain “appropriate levels of supervision” between Chenault and Arce.

Chenault or other university officials would not comment on the DOI OIG findings, Haskell spokesman Stephen Prue said Monday. Chenault did not reply to an email. Prue referred questions to the Bureau of Indian Education, a spokeswoman for which did not immediately return messages Monday.


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