Haskell Indian Nations University president dismissed
Ronald Graham was removed from his post as president of Haskell Indian Nations University after a tumultuous year of clashes with students and faculty members and allegations that he violated their civil rights and ignored the policies and practices of shared governance.
The Bureau of Indian Education, the federal agency that oversees Haskell, a tribal college in Kansas, fired Graham last week after an internal investigation into his conduct. The office also announced that Tamarah Pfeiffer, the office’s academic director, is now the interim president, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.
An email sent to faculty and staff announcing Pfeiffer’s new role described her as “a proven leader with the ability to identify and maximize employee strengths, motivate departments, inspire teams and to implement a strong vision for success in education. “
Graham declined to discuss his dismissal, but in an earlier statement he made Journal-World Last week after his dismissal, Graham said, as a veteran of the US military who had sworn to protect the Constitution, he would never “intentionally” violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty.
“I love Haskell, most of their employees and this community,” Graham wrote to the Journal-World. “I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who supports and it has been an honor for me to serve.”
Graham, a former dean of Victor Valley College in California and a member of the Eastern Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe, was hired as president of Haskell in May 2020 after the institution was led by presidents by acting for more than a year, the Journal-World reported.
Graham was first accused of suppressing the campus speech in October, after sending a threatening “directive” to Jared Nally, editor of the Haskell student newspaper, Indian chief. Graham ordered Nally to stop routine reporting and threatened to impose penalties under the student code of conduct. Graham sent a similar “directive” to Haskell faculty members in March, stating that employees may not engage in “libelous, libelous, damaging and inflammatory” behavior and state that “derogatory views” of directors are not protected by academic freedom. The directive was in response to faculty members criticizing university administrators in media comments and on social media, the Journal-World reported.
The university faculty Senate voted unanimously to declare no confidence in Graham in April, citing concerns about his stifling free speech by faculty and students and accusing Graham of not having adhered to shared governance practices. Among the complaints spelled out in the Faculty’s Senate censure resolution were accusations that Graham was excluding deans of faculties and universities from discussions about new degree programs and course and faculty schedules. He also did not call a meeting of the university’s board of trustees, although there is usually a meeting every semester, according to the resolution. (The president’s office in Haskell is responsible for calling meetings of the regents.)
“President Graham, during his nearly one-year tenure, made no effort to engage Haskell’s faculty in the legitimate practice of shared governance and expressed the view that he did not need to meet with Haskell Faculty Senate, ”the resolution reads. “Graham showed contempt for the college culture and uniqueness of Haskell’s Indigenous character, as evidenced by his disregard for academic freedom, the free speech rights of our students and faculty, and the autocratic manner with which he seeks to lead, not lead, Haskell. “
Graham is also charged in an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by Nally against the former president of the university and the Bureau of Indian Education, in which Nally is claiming his First Amendment rights and those of Indian chief were raped.
Katlyn Patton, a lawyer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, the civil liberties watchdog group that represents Nally, said the claims in the lawsuit against Graham as an individual would remain valid despite his departure as chairman. Graham, university and office officials have until June to respond to Nally’s lawsuit, Patton said.
Nally, a senior at Haskell, said Graham’s removal was recognition of his problematic leadership, but not a definitive solution to larger problems at Haskell. His lawsuit targets the written policies of the student code of conduct which he and FIRE say directly limit students’ freedom of expression, including a statement that “the expression of all views is allowed, in accordance with Haskell’s »values of communication, integrity, respect, collaboration, leadership and excellence.
“This will continue to be something that weighs on students and their free speech rights,” Nally said. Graham’s firing “doesn’t mean the code of conduct will no longer be a weapon in this way. He may have been the wrong actor to bring all of this to attention, but there is work to be done to restore freedom of speech and rights of expression.
Pfeiffer, the new acting president, declined a request for an interview and directed questions to a spokesperson for the Bureau of Indian Education, who did not respond to requests for comment.
Nally said faculty members and students have shown solidarity and support for each other over the past year amid the administrative turmoil. Indian chief took responsibility for keeping the campus informed because university administrators failed to do so, Nally said. He noted that students only found out about Graham’s dismissal through faculty members who received an email and local information.
“Still nothing has been said to the students,” he said, adding that the gaps in shared governance and the lack of involvement of the regents have left students, faculty and staff members feeling left out. and in ignorance.
“There weren’t really any checks and balances,” Nally said. “There are many ways we have come together to fill these roles.”