Haskell president warns student editor against ‘attacks,’ threatens discipline; groups denounce action as First Amendment violation
photo by: Jared Nally
The editor in chief of the student newspaper at Haskell Indian Nations University says the university president is threatening his First Amendment rights and teaching Native American scholars that they don’t have voices.
Jared Nally, a Haskell junior and editor of The Indian Leader student newspaper, received a “directive” from Haskell President Ronald Graham on Oct. 16 with specific instructions about what he is–and is not–allowed to do.
In the letter, Graham tells Nally, “you will NOT” attack any student, faculty member or staff member with letters or in public, make demands of any governmental agency while claiming to represent the student newspaper, attempt to countermand decisions of Haskell personnel or record anyone at Haskell in interviews unless first advising them and receiving their permission.
“Henceforth, you will conduct yourself in accordance with the Haskell Student Code of Conduct — now and in the future; and you will treat fellow students, University staff, and University officials with appropriate respect,” Graham wrote. “Failure to do so, may result in disciplinary action.”
Nally said he was upset when he received the directive from Graham, because he felt it was “negative” and painted an image of him that was in conflict with his own self-image. But after looking more at the directive, Nally realized it was “finally some proof of the retaliation I’ve been feeling for months.”
Graham did not respond to a request for comment for this story, nor did Haskell’s spokesperson, Stephen Prue.
As the Journal-World has reported, Nally said that responses from the Haskell administration have become increasingly sparse since the departure of former interim president Daniel Wildcat. He also stated that he has received comments from administrators criticizing his newspaper’s coverage. Now, he feels the directive is a concrete example of the university president violating his First Amendment rights.
“Haskell is an all Native American school and if the mentality of the administration is to not allow students to have free speech, then they are teaching these native scholars and these native youth that they don’t have voices,” he said.
Representatives of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Native American Journalists Association and Student Press Law Center agree that Graham is violating the First Amendment. In a letter to Graham, they wrote that his directive “forbids Nally from carrying on normal journalistic activities, such as requesting information from government agencies, recording interviews, and criticizing members of the HINU community.”
In the letter, they tell Graham to rescind the directive, restore the newspaper’s rights to university resources and access to its bank account, and to clarify that the university will not impede the free expression rights of students in the future.
“The only ‘attack’ here is Ronald Graham’s egregious and unconstitutional attack on the free press,” Lindsie Rank, a program officer with FIRE, said in a press release from FIRE. “President Graham must immediately disavow his threats against Jared’s right to ask questions of those in power. That’s Jared’s job as a journalist. It’s President Graham’s job to understand his very real obligations under the Constitution.”
In his directive to Nally, Graham brings up examples of ways Nally’s behavior has “discredited” him and the university, and “brought yourself, The Indian Leader, Haskell, and me unwarranted attention.”
In the directive, Graham mentions that Nally had recently contacted the Lawrence Police Department, “demanding information.” Nally emailed the Lawrence Police Department on Oct. 5, identified himself as a student journalist at Haskell, and requested confirmation and information about the death of a Haskell employee.
“Under no circumstances do you have the authority to contact the police department (or any other governmental agency) and demand anything on behalf of the University,” Graham’s directive to Nally states.
That wasn’t the only action of Nally’s to which Graham took offense. Graham also mentions in his letter that Nally attempted to remove the faculty adviser of the student newspaper this August.
Joshua Falleaf was assigned as the faculty adviser of the student publication this summer, which Nally and other members of the newspaper staff did not agree with, due to Falleaf’s current administrative position as an acting dean. The change came, Nally said, after the university decided faculty members must be removed from all advisory positions to focus on remote learning efforts. And it’s a change, Nally said, that really only affects the student newspaper, as most other clubs and associations on campus are not happening this semester, since Haskell opted to be entirely remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graham also disagreed with Nally’s actions of recording a conversation with a university official without her permission. Nally did not identify himself as a reporter during the conversation — which he said was because the university has repeatedly refused to answer press questions. He did use information from the conversation to write a piece for the paper, which he labeled as commentary, not news.
According to Kansas law, however, only one person in a conversation must consent to that conversation being recorded.
But “in many states, this would be considered a felony,” Graham writes. “You invoked Kansas law to justify disrespectful behavior toward a university official.”
The rights of the student newspaper
A 1989 settlement agreement between The Indian Leader and the United States Department of the Interior, which runs Haskell, notes that students have editorial control of the newspaper.
It states that no officer, agent, instructor or employee of Haskell may “censor, edit or modify the contents of The Indian Leader newspaper in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
The agreement also states that while the faculty adviser of the student publication has the right to offer advice and assistance, that person does not have the right to censor, edit or modify the content of the paper.
Another issue brought up by Nally and mentioned in the letter from FIRE, the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center is that Nally has not been able to access the paper’s funding because the group has not yet been sanctioned, or recognized, by the university this year. Normally, the newspaper gets sanctioned at the beginning of every year after having its first meeting, recording meeting minutes and electing officials, Nally said. This year, despite multiple attempts to receive sanctioning and thus get funding, Nally said he has not received any responses.
According to the 1989 settlement agreement, a monthly account statement prepared by the student bank must be presented to the leader of the student newspaper. Nally said he has not received any monthly account statements so far this year. The settlement agreement also notes that federal funding may be withdrawn from The Indian Leader, but that notice of the withdrawal of funding must be given 30 days in advance. And removing funding from the paper must not be exercised “in response to, or as a result of, articles, photographs or any other content of The Indian Leader.”
Thus, in addition to calling on Graham to rescind the directive and not violate the First Amendment, Nally and members of FIRE, the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center are calling on Haskell to restore the newspaper’s rights to university resources and access to its bank account.
A press release from the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) states that instead of condemning student journalists, Haskell should be commending them for their “dogged work.”
“Graham’s attempt to suppress student inquiry is fundamentally anti-Indigenous, and perpetuates the colonial goals of ignorance, isolation, and subjugation,” NAJA’s statement said. “NAJA joins the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in urging Haskell officials to respect student reporters and calls on President Graham to rescind his authoritarian-style threats at Nally for upholding his obligations to the Haskell community with persistent, thorough reporting.”
Graham, a former division dean of instruction at Victor Valley College in Victorville, Calif., began his presidency of Haskell in May of this year.