At inauguration, Haskell’s newest president outlines vision for a ‘human-centered’ university

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Haskell Indian Nations University President Frank Arpan, right, was inaugurated as the university's next president Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

When Frank Arpan was inaugurated as the newest president of Haskell Indian Nations University, he said he was tempted to treat the day of his ceremony as “just another Friday.”

But the gravity of the event dawned on him before long.

“This Friday is really not about me — this Friday is about Haskell,” Arpan, a citizen of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, said during his inauguration ceremony. “This Friday is the start of a new future at Haskell.”

As the Journal-World reported, Arpan joined Haskell as the university’s vice president of academics in May of 2022 after previously serving as dean of academics at Sisseton Wahpeton College in South Dakota. By January, he was identified on the university’s website as president. The Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees Haskell’s operations, formally announced Arpan’s presidency months later in May, and he was sworn into office Friday morning on Haskell’s campus.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Yankton Sioux tribal council present Haskell Indian Nations University President Frank Arpan with gifts commemorating his inauguration Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

At the inauguration ceremony, Arpan outlined his vision for Haskell as a “human-centered” institution offering a transformative learning environment for students.

“When I first interviewed at Haskell in February of last year, I talked about a ‘student-centered’ institution, and that is true — Haskell should be a student-centered institution,” Arpan said. “But Haskell also needs to be a ‘human-centered’ institution. We need to focus on our faculty, we need to focus on our staff, we need to focus on the administrators, we need to focus on the communities that we serve and the tribal members that we serve.”

Haskell currently has 880 enrolled students from around 140 tribal nations, which Arpan said is more students than Haskell has had on campus during a semester in 12 years. Arpan said he sees a need to increase Haskell’s student services to match that growth, including adding “much-needed mental health support.” He said the university should be viewed as a holistic learning environment where students are viewed as a “whole person,” rather than just focusing on their education.

Arpan also said he’s hoping to expand opportunities for the university by working with partners like other tribal colleges, universities and technical schools.

That all stems from Arpan’s own collegiate experience. He admitted that he “wasn’t the greatest student” while in college, but advisers and faculty members stepped up to help. That’s what inspired Arpan to work in higher education: to help people in the way that he was helped.

“At Sisseton Wahpeton College, teaching in a small classroom among students within that community, I got a sense of where my career should take me — and that is working with students from a disadvantaged background, working with marginalized students, working with students that really need the most help,” Arpan said.

Arpan’s appointment ends a roughly five-year period of instability in Haskell’s president role. Since late 2018, the university has had more than half a dozen permanent, interim or acting presidents.


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