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Haskell president removed amid free speech controversy

Jared Nally is editor of the Indian Leader, Haskell Indian Nations University student newspaper. ( Photo Gary Rohman/FIRE)

Jared Nally became a student journalist to be more involved in campus life instead of taking a job at a fast food restaurant.

“I thought if I worked at the paper I’d be at all the events and involved in campus culture,” said Nally (Miami Tribe of Oklahoma), editor of Haskell Indian Nations University’s student newspaper the Indian Leader in Lawrence, Kansas. “I wasn’t passionate at the time, but free speech made me realize how important journalism is and how important it is to hold officials accountable.”

Nally’s determination and passion for free speech played a major role toward the firing of HINU President Ronald Graham in May.

Nally, a senior, was working on a story about the passing of a university employee and reached out to university officials and the police department for confirmation. That simple act of routine journalistic research earned Nally the ire of Graham, who issued a directive in October 2020 that would have forbidden journalistic practices and restricted free speech.

Graham’s administration called the Indian Leader a student organization instead of a newspaper and cut its budget by over $10,000. The directive effectively silenced Nally for 90 days.

In early March, Nally filed a federal lawsuit against Graham and the university. After the lawsuit was filed, Graham issued two other directives on March 11 and March 21.

The first directive forbade employees from expressing opinions about the administration and the second one forbade faculty from mentioning their Haskell employment when speaking with the media.

An internal investigation revealed Graham stifled the free speech rights of students and faculty, which led to a unanimous vote of no confidence in the president from the faculty senate on April 1. The directives were rescinded April 7. Graham was fired by the school’s board of regents on May 7 and replaced by Dr. Tamarah Pfeiffer, a member of the Bureau of Indian Education’s senior leadership team.

“The acting president hasn’t released anything to students that she is in the position,” Nally said. “The BIE hasn’t released a memo to students.”

But instead of being intimidated by the administration as he tried to do his job, Nally was invigorated and plans to attend graduate school to study journalism.

“Most people don’t appreciate the value of free speech,” he said. “We need to be able to keep and exercise that freedom.”

Haskell’s history dates back to the mid-1800s when it first opened as an elementary school with 22 Native American students.

The university’s figures from 2019 showed an enrollment of nearly 800 students who represented 145 sovereign nations from 35 states.

Today, academic programs include natural and social sciences, Indigenous and American Indian studies, environmental science, mathematics, communications, English, art, theater, music and media communications. Professional schools include health, sport and exercise science, business and education.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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