Haskell wants to change; we should help make it happen

Lawrence and Douglas County have a chance to do economic development and do right.



May 12, 2021 - 8:17 AM

Haskell Campus

Lawrence and Douglas County have a chance to do economic development and do right.

One of the community’s greatest, unfulfilled opportunities is Haskell Indian Nations University. It already is a great institution in many ways. It has a sense of community and common purpose that many entities would love to have.

What it does not have is a system that allows it to reach its potential. That sad fact has been on display again for the last several months, and reached a head on Friday when the university’s president, Ronald Graham, was immediately dismissed.

Graham seemingly did not understand how to communicate with the Haskell community or, for that matter, the larger Lawrence community. His selection, just last year, was the product of a federal bureaucratic system that for decades has forced Haskell to operate more like a division of a federal agency rather than a full-fledged university.

This is not a new observation about Haskell, but it was made with new urgency this week by the president of the National Haskell Board of Regents. He noted how the federal government has figured out how to fund historically Black universities/colleges and military academies, like West Point, yet still allow those institutions to operate largely free of federal strings that so often ensnare Haskell. That’s a model that should be allowed to work at Haskell.

Regents President Brandon Yellowbird-Stevens said Haskell needs to be able to “respond, react and perform like any other university.” Local leaders — as neighbors, not knights on white horses — should offer our help in advocating for true federal change at Haskell.

Lawrence has struggled to get its economic engine humming in recent years. It is clear that Lawrence’s best chance at sustained prosperity is to be the best university community it can be. Haskell, because of its truly unique nature in all of America, is the type of opportunity that can add a couple of cylinders to Lawrence’s economic engine. We can go from a V-6 to a V-8 if Haskell just runs at something closer to full capacity.

In more straightforward terms, a stronger Haskell will attract more students, which eventually will lead to more faculty and staff. Both of those developments will add dollars to the businesses that already serve the students and staff of the University of Kansas. We have the infrastructure in place to serve students and all their byproducts. We just need more of them.

More important than economic development, though, is that the good people of Haskell deserve better. Is there any group in America that has suffered from federal incompetence more than Native Americans? It is cruel that they are once again being held back by the federal government.

Now is the time to try to change that. It really does seem that there is a window of opportunity, but we must act quickly. Rep. Sharice Davids is one of the first two Native American women to ever serve in Congress. She’s right next door in Kansas City. The secretary of the Interior — the federal agency that oversees Haskell — is Deb Haaland. She is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Undoubtedly, there are Haskell alumni who have relationships with her.

There really never has been a better time to do this. But “do” is the key word in that phrase. It will take action that starts locally. A local delegation committed to gaining independence for Haskell in much the same way that military academies and HCBUs already have should be formed. Representatives from Haskell, the Kansas governor’s office, the City of Lawrence, Douglas County, KU and the Lawrence chamber of commerce all should be part of that delegation. It should make connections with Davids and Haaland. It should hold a local town hall to show that the broader Douglas County community wants to see this change for Haskell.

And then, it must persist, persist and persist.

We should do it because it will make us richer in terms of money, in terms of culture and in terms of karma. But mostly, we should do it to be a good neighbor. Haskell is certainly owed that.

— Lawrence Journal-World