By Kevin Abourezk Following publication of Indianz.Com's story, the Bureau of Indian Education on Tuesday announced Dan Wildcat will be serving as the "acting" president of Haskell Indian Nations University. Venida Chenault has been "detailed" to another position within the BIE, according to an email sent on a campus-wide list group. She will be working on a "special assignment" for the BIE. Indianz.Com has asked for further information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
A report published Friday by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of the Interior found that officials at Haskell Indian Nations University mishandled misconduct complaints, underrepresented crime statistics in 2014 and 2015 and improperly influenced the appointment of a staff member’s family member to a high-level position. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) also found that some Haskell employees felt bullied and intimidated by Haskell President Venida Chenault. The OIG’s investigation was the result of allegations of mismanagement from students, faculty and administrators against Chenault, who has led the university since 2014. The OIG said its investigation revealed allegations that a Haskell instructor had sexually assaulted a student, a matter that the agency referred to local police in Lawrence, Kansas. The department planned to submit its report to the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The department found no evidence for at least two complaints that it received, including allegations that Chenault had showed favoritism to an employee and that a university employee had improperly purchased computers through a Title III grant.
Chenault, who is a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, did not respond to a request for comment by Indianz.Com. The allegations that the OIG managed to substantiate included: · Mishandled complaints of misconduct. The OIG found the university didn’t follow its own guidelines for handling criminal or administrative student and faculty misconduct complaints. The university doesn’t have advocates trained to respond to misconduct complaints, and staff that should have received training for handling such complaints lacked that training. · The university failed to issue timely warnings as required when sexual assaults occurred on campus, including following a November 2014 on-campus sexual assault of a student. One employee told the OIG that Chenault refused her recommendation to issue a warning following the assault, saying “I don’t want to do that.” · Chenault admitted she treated a sexual assault allegation differently because the victim was male and the university mishandled allegations that an instructor had raped a student, thereby likely re-victimizing the student. She also described how a Haskell security guard and resident assistant had failed to document and report a domestic violence incident. · At least 10 university employees told the OIG they felt bullied and intimidated by Chenault. However, the OIG found no evidence that Chenault had taken adverse action against those employees. A high-ranking administrator said Chenault would lash out at her during meetings and she described the president as “highly manipulative” and “abusive.” Another employee said Chenault made disparaging remarks about her and threatened to terminate her employment. And a student told the OIG that Chenault and her family member terminated his access to Haskell’s online course management system, impeding his ability to complete assignments, after he filed several grievances against the university. In response to those complaints, Chenault told the OIG that she blamed a lack of communication between her and some employees and an unwillingness to change by some employees for the negative perceptions of her. “I’m sorry that people have those perceptions and, you know, don’t have the wherewithal to just say that.” She denied intentionally intimidating people or threatening employees’ jobs. · Chenault’s presence in a meeting where her family member was being considered for a high-level position. The family member’s immediate supervisor told the OIG that Chenault told her to select the family members for the position, though Chenault and the university’s human resources director denied that allegation. All three individuals agreed that Chenault’s presence during the meeting unfairly influenced the selection of her family member for the position.
Congratulations to the 233 @HaskellU Graduates!— Indian Affairs (@USIndianAffairs) May 22, 2018
PDAS Tahsuda delivered a commencement address last week to Haskell Indian Nations University’s largest graduating class since it became a university in 1993.#ONWARDHASKELL!
📷 Credit: Haskell Success & @WhiteConePros pic.twitter.com/OtqoSRIFmA
His complaints included allegations of black mold in dorm rooms, manipulation of crime statistics and fear and intimidation by top-level administrators against employees and students. “They were retaliating against their students for speaking up about the wrongs that were being done,” Circle Bear said. He said he hopes BIA and BIE officials will take action against Haskell officials for their treatment of staff and students and mishandling of crime statistics. “I just hope that Washington D.C., they listen to this and they act accordingly and swiftly with this,” he said. “Change needs to happen.” He said he plans to continue to fight to get back into Haskell to finish his nursing degree. “They’re making it extremely difficult,” he said. “I’m not giving up. I’m going to go back to school.”
Investigation Reveals Absence of Clear Boundaries Between Bureau of Indian Education Post-Secondary Educational Institution and Nonprofit Corporation (October 15, 2018)
Employees Believed BIE Director’s Presence During Fiscal Monitoring Review at Former School Was Improper (August 27, 2018)
BIE Official Allegedly Inflated Gifted Program Enrollment and Student Attendance Numbers at Former School (August 16, 2018)
Haskell University expelled student who was victim of sexual assault (October 26, 2016)
Haskell University confirms president is still under investigation (October 20, 2016)
Haskell counselor files lawsuit over handling of sexual assault case (10/11)
President of Haskell University criticized for son's employment (09/14)