Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is a Bureau of Indian Education facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo: John Phelan

Bureau of Indian Education manager investigated for sexual misconduct

A manager at a Bureau of Indian Education institution in New Mexico was investigated for sexual misconduct and harassment, according to an internal watchdog.

The manager at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute engaged in a "sexual relationship" with a student, the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior confirmed. But neither SIPI nor the BIE prohibit such relationships so there apparently was no wrongdoing.

The manager, however, was seen as troublesome, according to a summary of the investigation. "In addition, several of the manager’s colleagues and direct reports described the manager’s behavior in the workplace as confrontational, abrasive, and argumentative," the OIG wrote.

The manager is not named in the summary. A full copy of the report was presented to the BIE and to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Earlier this year, Government Executive reported on numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment at SIPI. One employee accused Eric Christensen, the vice president of college operations, of sexual assaulting her, a claim he denied.

In an interview with Government Executive, Christensen called his accuser “a liar." According to the publication, he refused to be interviewed in person by police officers about the allegation, telling them: “She’s fat, she’s ugly, she’s old."

As of the story's publication in February, Christensen had been on paid leave for 16 months. He continued to draw his annual salary of $109,800 while his conduct was being investigated, Government Executive reported.

Christensen continues to be listed on SIPI's staff directory. He is one of two vice presidents at the college and oversees the program that handles student complaints, according to a policy document.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he worked at the Indian Health Service in Arizona between 2002 and 2013 before being hired at SIPI.

Both Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney have vowed zero tolerance for sexual harassment and misconduct. Neither the BIA, nor the BIE, however, have publicly made available their harassment policies or their plans to address harassment within the workforce.

According to a landmark study released almost a year ago, the BIA suffers from the highest rate of harassment -- particularly racial and sexual harassment -- of all agencies at the Department of the Interior . The BIE falls under the BIA.

As of September 30, 2018, BIE employees filed 13 complaints over the prior year, according to data posted in compliance with the federal No Fear Act. Another 20 complaints were filed at the BIA, the data shows.

The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act, also known as the No Fear Act, requires federal agencies to provide annual reports on complaints that have been filed.

Office of the Inspector General Report
Investigation of Misconduct and Mismanagement at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (December 4, 2018)

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