Former Haskell president seeks reinstatement through federal appeal process

photo by: Journal-World file

A sign at the entrance to Haskell Indian Nations University is shown in this file photo from Friday, Aug. 5, 2016.

A former Haskell Indian Nations University president is seeking reinstatement via a federal appeal process more than three years after being terminated from the role.

The Journal-World on Friday obtained a copy of a press release set to be released publicly early this week by the “Haskell Integrity Project.” According to the release, the group aims to address “serial injustices, ongoing malfeasance, student and staff abuse, retaliation and financial crimes” on campus, at the Bureau of Indian Education — the federal agency that oversees Haskell’s operations — and at the U.S. Department of the Interior, the federal office that houses the BIE.

That release notes that the former university president, Ronald Graham, filed his appeal seeking reinstatement on May 10 and is claiming that he was retaliated against for “whistleblowing activity.” Graham’s appeal was filed through the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent quasi-judicial agency that protects federal merit systems against partisan political and other prohibited personnel practices by adjudicating employee appeals.

Graham is the former Haskell president who in May 2021 was removed from office following an internal investigation and criticism that he was stifling free speech rights on campus. But Graham has previously claimed that the BIE attributed his removal not to that internal investigation but to mismanagement related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.

As the Journal-World has reported, Graham detailed those claims in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland last year, after he’d filed a complaint alleging corruption and criminal misconduct at the BIE with another independent federal investigative agency, the Office of Special Counsel. The office issued him an “Individual Right of Action” letter in March, enabling the MSPB to exercise jurisdiction over Graham’s appeal.

In his letter to Haaland last year, Graham claimed that his termination letter contradicted a positive performance review conducted by the BIE just a few months earlier in December 2020. The Journal-World has also obtained copies of both Graham’s 2020 performance evaluation and the May 2021 termination letter.

The termination letter cites three specific areas of concern as reasons for Graham’s firing — that he failed to implement or follow safety protocols for COVID-19, failed to follow policies and processes for getting approval for Haskell’s dual enrollment program, and failed to interact with faculty regarding ideas or plans “related to the education programs.”

The evaluation itself paints a positive picture of Graham’s accomplishments through 2020, however, even though it doesn’t seem to directly refute any of the concerns from the termination letter. Graham did earn praise for deciding to maintain online instruction during the height of the pandemic, for example, and for taking multiple steps to provide supports for dual enrollment students.

Overall, the evaluation awarded Graham an average numerical rating that “exceeds expectations,” according to the BIE’s scoring scale.

Today, Graham claims in his appeal to the MSPB that the BIE “engaged in a conspiracy with members of the (Haskell) faculty to cover up and allow existing and ongoing financial crimes to continue” on campus.

Graham claims that those alleged crimes extend to theft of donated funds, fraudulent payroll practices and more.

The press release set to be shared this week claims that Graham had ordered financial audits and investigations and other programmatic reviews that were halted and “disappeared” after he was terminated in 2021.

Graham also asks in his recent appeal to be credited with additional time applied to the probationary period in which he was employed when he was terminated. Graham claims that he was less than a week away from completing his first year of service — and thus completing a mandatory one-year probation period — when he was fired. The appeal claims that Graham estimates he worked “at least 320 hours” between his hire and start date in early 2020.

But Graham’s termination letter seems to indicate that he was required to serve a two-year “trial period,” and the letter notes that an employee is subject to termination “without appeal rights for any performance or conduct deficiencies during this trial period, at the supervisor’s discretion.”

Graham’s appeal also cites a recently released report on a number of allegations of misconduct at Haskell — ranging from mishandled sexual assault allegations to a “frivolous” investigation of a former cross country coach — as a related case. The appeal says that the report illustrates a clear “pattern and practice of retaliation” exhibited by the BIE.


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