June 13, 2021
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Haskell faculty takes vote of no confidence in vice president

Updated at 10:23 a.m. Monday, May 3:

Less than a month after issuing a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ronald Graham, the president of Haskell Indian Nations University, faculty on Friday took another vote of no confidence — this time regarding one of Graham’s vice presidents. 

Melanie Daniel, Haskell’s vice president for academics, started in her role less than six months ago.

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Daniel, of Lawrence, is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and attended schools in Lawrence before graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law. According to her biography on Haskell’s administrative website, Daniel has three decades of experience working in and teaching federal Indian law. 

Haskell’s student newspaper, The Indian Leader, posted the faculty resolution on the vote of no confidence — which was approved by a vote of 15-0 — to its website Monday.

It states that Daniel has declared meetings and then canceled them with little notice; that she has failed to engage with the faculty senate; and that she has proposed contract hires to fill key roles at the university without faculty senate consultation, which “puts important university functions in the hands of short-term stakeholders that lack institutional knowledge.”

In addition, along with Graham, Daniel drew criticism earlier this year after issuing a directive to Haskell employees that they could not represent or speak publicly on behalf of the institution without obtaining prior approval. 

“For example, if I make a statement to a local paper, as Melanie Daniel, I am free to use words or actions I choose to communicate my opinion,” she wrote in March. “If I use my name and add Vice President of Academics, Haskell Indian Nations University, I legally speak on behalf of Haskell. I do not have the authority to do so without prior approval.”

“You do not have the right to represent, speak, write, post on social media, or communicate in any way using the Haskell name and/or your title at Haskell unless and until you have DOI approval prior to the action,” Daniel’s email continued. 

In early April, the Bureau of Indian Education, which governs Haskell and other tribal institutions, rescinded Daniel’s directive and a separate directive from Graham that forbade all employees from expressing opinions about his administration. 

Tony Dearman, the director of the Bureau of Indian Education, told the school’s employees in a letter April 6 that “after discussion with Dr. Graham,” the two directives have been rescinded and are no longer in effect.

“The Bureau of Indian Education is committed to providing Haskell students, faculty, and staff the freedom to express themselves on matters of importance,” Dearman wrote.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an independent and nonpartisan advocacy organization, has lambasted Graham and his administration over the past few months — related to the aforementioned directives and a past high-profile incident in which Graham sought to prohibit the editor-in-chief of Haskell’s student newspaper from basic newsgathering duties.

“Haskell’s latest directives sent a clear message to faculty: The administration is watching and is prepared to violate the Constitution to protect its reputation,” FIRE Program Officer Lindsie Rank said in early April. “We’re relieved that the BIE finally stepped in to preserve faculty rights, but the Haskell administration has repeatedly tried to suppress dissent, and the BIE — which operates the university — should have acted long ago to end the pattern of rights violations endemic to Haskell.”

Media representatives to whom Haskell officials have directed requests for comment did not immediately respond to the Times’ email Monday morning.

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