Haskell Indian Nations University report upsets lawmakers

July 11, 2024
3,066 Views

Republican lawmakers are calling on the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education to hand over information and documents about alleged misconduct at Haskell Indian Nations University, including accusations that administrators insufficiently addressed students’ sexual assault reports.

Earlier this month, leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Committee on Natural Resources sent a letter to Tony Dearman, director of the Bureau of Indian Education, demanding unredacted copies of investigative reports regarding complaints against the Kansas university for Indigenous students. The letter is signed by the chairs of the two committees, Virginia Foxx and Bruce Westerman, and the chairs of two subcommittees.

They wrote that officials at the university, the bureau and the Department of the Interior received “numerous complaints, emails and letters” from current and former students and employees regarding problems at Haskell, including reports of sexual abuse and bullying on campus. Haskell serves roughly 1,000 students, all from federally recognized tribes, according to its website. It’s one of only two higher ed institutions directly operated by the bureau. Another 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities across the country are chartered by tribal governments, according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

Bureau officials drew outrage from politicians after dragging their feet earlier this year on sharing a scathing investigative report into allegations against Haskell produced by bureau staff, Indianz.com, a Native American–focused news site, reported.

The investigation was prompted by “various letters and anonymous complaints” to the bureau, “alleging non-responsiveness to student grievances, student harassment and bullying by HINU administrators, theft, nepotism, sexual assaults, workplace harassment/intimidation/bullying, fraud, waste, and abuse,” according to the report.

An administrative investigation board, made up of bureau human resources staff, conducted 34 interviews with Haskell students and employees and submitted the results to the bureau in November 2022, the report notes. Though the report is dated January 2023, the bureau only publicly released a redacted version of it this April after it was sued by a nonprofit watchdog organization on behalf of a former employee and students frustrated by the delays.

Lawmakers wrote in the letter that they’re concerned the bureau failed to “quickly address students’ concerns, especially those involving reports of sexual assault,” “omitted information from the very reports intended to address these concerns” and “repeatedly refused to produce” the report.

Staff at Haskell referred questions from Inside Higher Ed to a spokesperson at the Bureau of Indian Education, but officials there did not respond to requests for comment.

The Lawsuit

It took a legal battle for the investigation’s results to be made public.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit organization that represents government employee whistleblowers, sued the Bureau of Indian Education in July 2023 for rejecting its Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the report, according to a press release from the organization.

PEER first made the request in April 2023 after Clay Mayes, the university’s former cross country and track coach, said he and students had been interviewed for an investigation but never heard anything back about the results.

Bureau officials responded a month later saying they couldn’t fulfill the request because of concerns about breaching privacy, publicizing internal deliberations and violating the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act, which protects the confidentiality of people who report abuse of Native children. After its appeal was ignored, PEER sued. Several Haskell students also submitted FOIA requests in September.

An attorney representing the bureau then agreed to provide the organization with a report in November, but it was a different report about another investigation focused on student complaints, later deemed unsubstantiated, accusing Mayes of favoritism—not the report PEER wanted. The attorney argued that the report PEER sought was “not completed”—and likely wouldn’t be until January 2024—“and therefore is outside of the scope of the request and litigation.”

PEER pushed back, and this April, the bureau publicly released a redacted version of the 80-page investigative report and accompanying documents.

‘Troubling’ Findings

Jeff Ruch, the Pacific director of PEER, said the report’s “troubling” findings explain why bureau officials “were going to so much effort to hide it.”

“The content concerned alleged misconduct, ranging from sexual assaults to embezzlement,” he said. “All that suggested that there was something rotten at Haskell.”

The report details, for example, that a student allegedly sexually assaulted three other students, and university staff members didn’t properly investigate what happened. In general, university employees “appear to take minimum actions when students make allegations of sexual assault” and have “insufficient” procedures that “place the overall health and safety of the students at risk,” the report said. It also accused the university of failing to follow up with victims, haphazardly applying Title IX sexual assault policies and neglecting to make campus leaders aware of sexual assault reports.

Other allegations cited in the report include a coach “rubbing the backs and shoulders” of student athletes in a way that made them uncomfortable, nepotism in the athletics department and the wrongful termination of Mayes, who was “bullied, harassed, and intimidated.”

The report calls the university “severely dysfunctional.” It also notes that despite repeated student complaints to the university and the bureau, investigators “could not find any evidence where any management official recognized the students or made any attempt to respond, even to let them know they would investigate their concerns.”

Lawmakers stressed in their letter that the report contains “serious assertions” about alleged misconduct that “ravaged … student and faculty welfare.” They expressed dissatisfaction with the “heavily redacted” version of the report, which leaves out most names. The letter demands Congress receive a complete copy of the report and accompanying documents, as well as an explanation of any edits made to these materials between November 2022, when it was submitted, and January 2023, when the report is dated.

Kansas senator Jerry Moran expressed similar frustrations to the Department of the Interior in April. In a letter to department secretary Deb Haaland, he asked when officials were made aware of the report and what the department planned to do to make “meaningful change” at Haskell.

He described hearing concerning allegations in 2022—including about the termination of Mayes’s contract—and an exchange with department officials in 2023 in which they detailed changes the bureau would make at the university. But his office continued to receive complaints from students, which led to a meeting last October with Dearman, the bureau’s director, during which Moran learned of the investigation and that “Haskell was working to improve its processes to oversee student wellbeing.” The release of the report this year, however, did little to ease his mind.

“By failing to respond to the findings of this report in a timely and appropriate manner, federal employees at the Department of Interior— specifically the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and [Bureau of Indian Education]—have failed to uphold the federal government’s responsibility to Native American students,” Moran wrote.

Ruch, of PEER, said he’s glad to see congressional Republicans pushing the bureau to address concerns at Haskell. He believes that, in general, Democrats are less likely to take up oversight work of federal agencies under a Democratic administration, and that the same was true for Republican lawmakers under former president Donald Trump. He finds oversight efforts can sometimes be used primarily for “scoring points” in the political arena, but he sees this push as simply calling on a federal agency to improve.

The question now is “What is the [the bureau] going to do about it?” he said. “It’s now been a few months, and it’s not clear what, if anything, they’re going to do.”



Source by [author_name]

You may be interested

Incurable Nipah brain virus kills teenager in India
World
shares3,663 views
World
shares3,663 views

Incurable Nipah brain virus kills teenager in India

new admin - Jul 22, 2024

Authorities in southern India’s Kerala state are taking preventive steps after the death of a 14-year-old boy from the Nipah virus and the…

World leaders react to Biden exiting 2024 presidential race
Top Stories
shares3,707 views
Top Stories
shares3,707 views

World leaders react to Biden exiting 2024 presidential race

new admin - Jul 22, 2024

World leaders react to Biden exiting 2024 presidential race - CBS News Watch CBS News President Biden's announcement to end…

Horoscopes today – Russell Grant's star sign forecast for Monday, July 22
Lifestyle
shares3,255 views
Lifestyle
shares3,255 views

Horoscopes today – Russell Grant's star sign forecast for Monday, July 22

new admin - Jul 22, 2024

TODAY'S horoscope has one star sign musing over a legacy, while another has some profitable ideas. What else can you…