Former Haskell president files complaint alleging ‘corruption, criminal misconduct’ and more at the Bureau of Indian Education and on campus

photo by: Journal-World File

Then-president of Haskell Indian Nations University Ronald Graham is pictured giving closing remarks at a Veterans Day celebration at the university on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.

A former Haskell Indian Nations University president has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel in Washington, D.C., alleging “corruption, serial malfeasance, criminal misconduct and administrative wrongdoing” at the Bureau of Indian Education and on campus during his tenure.

The former president, Ronald Graham, submitted the complaint Monday. The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that protects federal employees from prohibited personnel practices like retaliation for whistleblowing. The Bureau of Indian Education oversees Haskell’s operations, meaning people who work at the university are federal employees.

Graham served as Haskell’s president for about a year before he was removed from office following an internal investigation, criticism that he was stifling the free speech rights of students and faculty on campus and a vote of no confidence from Haskell’s faculty senate.

But in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland informing her of the complaint, Graham claims that instead of that issue, his termination letter from the BIE cited issues like how he managed procedures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, dual enrollment and faculty relations as the reasons he was fired.

Graham claims that termination letter came just a few months after a December 2020 performance review conducted by the BIE that awarded Graham an overall “Exceeds Expectations” grade for his performance — and an even higher “Outstanding” grade specifically for his management during the pandemic.

“Inexplicably and without explanation, each of the three cited so-called ‘failures’ were expressly identified as accomplishments in BIE’s annual evaluation only a few months prior,” Graham says in the letter.

In the letter to Haaland, Graham also alleges that he reported numerous issues — including “falsified payroll issues involving more than 10 faculty members” and “millions in unaccounted for donated funds” — to BIE Director Tony Dearman and BIE Human Resources Officer Jackie Shamblin, but none of the issues was fully addressed after Graham was terminated.

Graham also claims that when Haskell’s president position was posted in 2022, a full year after his termination, he applied to be reinstated. He claims that the BIE approved his application and determined he was eligible, but didn’t allow him to interview. The university’s current president is identified as Frank Arpan; Haskell’s website lists Arpan, who was named Haskell’s vice president of academics last year, as serving in an interim role.

“These matters scream — plead — for leadership exclusively committed to the well-being and education of students entrusted to Haskell’s care and respect for the public funds allocated for Haskell,” Graham’s letter reads. “The rule of law needs to be upheld and respected.”


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