Federal investigation shows Haskell underreported crime statistics; employee blamed ‘intimidation’ by university president
Haskell Indian Nations University glaringly underreported the number of crimes reported on its campus, including sexual assault, a federal investigation found.
The school’s federally mandated annual campus security report, known as the Clery Report, should have listed 19 crimes reported in 2014, instead of three, and 32 crimes reported in 2015, instead of five.
A Haskell employee admitted to purposely falsifying numbers for the Clery Report, but said she did so at the direction of the university’s president, whom she feared. The president denied intentionally running afoul of requirements and called the failure “discouraging.”
Those findings were among results of a broader investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General. 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.
Haskell is the only four-year university operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Education, which reports to the Department of the Interior. Currently, the school enrolls 733 students from 142 different tribal affiliations.
The investigation delved into complaints from some Haskell employees and students about various issues, but alleged mismanagement by Haskell President Venida Chenault was at the root of them. As such, the DOI OIG rolled them into a single investigation, DOI OIG spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said.
The DOI OIG report does not make recommendations, but it will be forwarded to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and BIE to take action.
“We ask them to get back to us with a response within 90 days,” DiPaolo said. “The expectation is that they read it, they look at what the problems are that we’ve pointed out, and hopefully come up with some fixes.”
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 the bureau did not immediately return messages Monday.
Chenault began her presidency in January 2014, with the school’s 10-year accreditation review slated to begin the following fall. Following several years of turnover and interims in the president’s office, Chenault wrapped up a number of undone initiatives, revived the previously defunct Haskell Foundation and shut down some of the school’s athletics programs, including football — a particularly unpopular decision with some in the Haskell community.
The Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to publicly disclose crimes reported on their campuses, including sexual assaults. Clery Reports are supposed to tally crimes reported to law enforcement as well to campus security personnel and university officials, painting a more complete picture than one category alone.
There are potential penalties for underreporting statistics. The U.S. Department of Education can issue civil fines for a substantial misrepresentation of the number, location or nature of crimes required to be reported, according to the DOI OIG investigation.
The DOI OIG investigation looked at 2014 and 2015 but did not have later years’ reports available, the report said.
The employee in charge of submitting the numbers, who isn’t named in the report, said she included only the “highest profile crimes, which had been substantiated,” even though she knew all reports should be included — even those that weren’t investigated. She admitted it was wrong to misrepresent the safety of the campus.
However, she said when she presented numbers to Chenault, the president told her they only needed to report arrests and instructed her to adjust the figures. The employee said if they accurately reported the numbers they would have shown a “spike” in crime that might have drawn attention from the agency doing Haskell’s reaccreditation review.
“The employee said she has tried to explain the requirements to the President, but it just made her angry,” the report said. “The employee said, ‘I know it’s wrong, but I’m scared to death, you know. I mean, I need this job.'”
photo by: Nick Krug
Another Haskell employee also said procedures weren’t followed because the president “used fear and intimidation to limit public exposure of these incidents.”
The second employee, a former counselor, said more sexual assaults were reported to her than showed up on the Clery Report. She alleged that the president feared higher numbers could negatively affect Haskell’s budget and claimed that, in retaliation, Chenault cut off her interaction with students and “was trying to get rid of her.”
“I think everyone, you know, they’re afraid for their jobs at Haskell, because you’re either on [the President’s] side or you’re not,” the counselor told DOI OIG investigators.
The second employee is not named in the report, but her statements to the DOI OIG mirror those in a federal lawsuit brought against Haskell by a former student counselor, Angelina Adams. She later dropped her lawsuit, but said she would pursue a federal whistleblower complaint instead.
Chenault denied intentionally misrepresenting the statistics, citing unfamiliarity with requirements, according to the DOI OIG report.
Chenault acknowledged that both she and the responsible employee should be familiar with those requirements but that they were not.
Chenault denied being aware that the employee intentionally misrepresented the statistics and denied ever directing her — overtly or subtly — to omit statistics to avoid negative effects on the university.
Chenault said she knows “people that are intimidated by me because I’m the president,” but said she hoped that the employee who compiled the numbers didn’t intentionally withhold statistics because she was afraid to show her the true results.
• The DOI OIG report found evidence that at least 10 employees and students felt “bullied and intimidated” by Chenault but did not find evidence that she took disciplinary or other adverse action against any of them.
One of the alleged victims in the report described Chenault as “highly manipulative” and “abusive,” including lashing out in meetings.
Chenault told investigators that she had heard about these types of allegations.
“She said that she did not intentionally intimidate people to get what she wanted, did not threaten employees’ jobs, and did not favor one department over another,” the report said. “The President believed that some employees think she does all those things.”
She said there had been a breakdown of communication with some employees, which led to problems in more than one department. Also, she told investigators, “another obstacle was that senior staff at Haskell said that they did not want to change, because they were near retirement and did not want to be held to a higher standard.”
The DOI OIG said many of the complaints it received were related to Chenault’s athletic cuts, which she described as among the “difficult decisions” she’s had to make since becoming president.
• The report found that Haskell made missteps when investigating several complaints of misconduct, including reports of sexual assault and domestic violence on campus.
• The report found unsubstantiated a complaint that Chenault showed improper favoritism to an employee by allowing her to work on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Kansas while employed by Haskell.
• Another unsubstantiated claim was that a Haskell IT employee improperly used federal grant money to buy hundreds of new computers for campus and mismanaged their installation. Although there were scheduling delays in rolling out the project, everything was done in accordance with the grant.
• In addition to the new report on misconduct allegations, the DOI OIG recently released a memo regarding the Haskell Foundation, the nonprofit corporation that raises money to help the school.
During the course of the broader DOI OIG investigation, problems with the Foundation were noticed, notably that the lines between it and the university are blurred. DiPaolo said those issues aren’t under DOI OIG’s purview to investigate so the agency outlined them in the memo passed on to the Bureau of Indian Education.