His free speech rights threatened, Haskell student journalist fights back

By: - November 14, 2020 9:30 am

Jared Nally (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

A student journalist’s questions in Lawrence have put him at odds with his university and given him a taste of media attention.

Jared Nally, 27, is the editor-in-chief of The Indian Leader, the nation’s oldest Native American-run student newspaper, at Haskell Indian Nations University. Nally, a member of the Miami tribe of Oklahoma, has been the subject of local and national media reports after receiving an Oct. 16 directive from university president Ronald Graham telling him to cease any fact-finding attempts.

Graham also told Nally to conduct himself in accordance with the Haskell Student Code of Conduct, stating, “you will treat fellow students, University staff, and University officials with appropriate respect. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action.”

“It’s basically a blanket statement of ‘don’t do any journalism, or if you do, just don’t ask us too much,’” Nally said.

The document begins with Graham outlining his connections with various Lawrence city officials, including the mayor and city manager’s office, Lawrence Police Department, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary. He goes on to write that Nally has been identified recently, “and on more than one occasion, as someone who routinely attacks Haskell employees with letters.” Graham states that Nally was identified as having called the Lawrence Police Department to demand information regarding a deceased Haskell employee while representing himself as an editor for The Indian Leader.

“Under no circumstances do you have the authority to contact the police department (or any other governmental agency) and demand anything on behalf of the University,” Graham wrote.

All requests for comment from university officials, including Graham, have gone unanswered, and calls on the direct phone lines to the university and the president’s office ring to voicemail.

Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition, said the directive is way off the mark from what the law says and from what is expected from universities in terms of freedoms for journalism students.

“That’s the antithesis of a professional administrator, in my view,” Keefover said. “University presidents are there to serve students and alumni, not for students and alumni to serve them.”

Keefover said the coalition stands firmly in support of the university newspaper and freedom of student journalism. Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, agreed that the limitations laid out in the directive are unacceptable.

“For the administration to try and impede this process is not only a disservice to the students of Haskell University, but to the public’s right to know what is happening at a publicly funded university,” Bradbury said.

Nally said the Bureau of Indian Education has begun the process of hiring an outside investigator to review claims he filed regarding intimidation and bullying from Graham. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), along with the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center, have also sent Graham a letter condemning the directive’s language and motives. Nally said FIRE has informed the university that they want the directive immediately rescinded and the involvement of other university personnel investigated.

Francine Compton, president of the Native American Journalists Association, said she was shocked by the strong language of the directive sent to Nally, and that it was a unanimous decision by the NAJA board of directors to support him.

“I don’t think a letter like this should be given to any student from any senior administrator of any educational institution, that’s just the bottom line,” Compton said.

The letter from FIRE indicates multiple concerns, including the university’s handling of Nally’s questions about Census reporting. In March, Nally began asking questions about how HINU reports student data to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nally said he originally was concerned that he had not been counted correctly, and that the school did not comply with guidance from the Department of Education regarding the identity of students reporting on the Census.

“I wanted to be recorded as biracial on the Census,” Nally said. “Since I was living in the dorms I could not self-report, because I’m not considered the ‘head of household.’”

The FIRE letter states that Nally “became concerned that HINU had engaged in discrimination against biracial students by reporting all students as ‘Native American,’ regardless of their personal identities.”

Nally said he reviewed information on the Department of Education’s Post-Secondary Education Data System and found that every year since reporting started in 2001, the Department of Education shows 100% of HINU’s population  recorded as Native-American. He said Haskell is one of two schools which employ a funding formula for Native identity reporting.

“The formula used to get their funding is based on racial reporting data, not per tribal enrollment status,” Nally said. “If I wanted to be Native and white, that’s two or more races, and it wouldn’t count toward the formula.”

Nally said the directive upset him when he received it, but it also gave him a reason to report on the university’s efforts to block his reporting over the past several months.

“The university has made it extremely difficult to do basic journalism,” he said.

Nally said he began writing for The Indian Leader as a source of extra income, but has grown to love it. And his intense first-year experience has not discouraged him from pursuing journalism in the future, he said.

“I’m not an intense person,” Nally said. “I really love indigenous textiles. My idea of relaxing is to spin yarn.”

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AJ Dome
AJ Dome

AJ Dome is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster from southwest Kansas. As a reporter, he has done everything from chase tornadoes and track wildfires to hang out with ostriches and drive golf carts across the Flint Hills. When he's not writing for the Reflector, he's developing a series of adventure novels set in the Sunflower State.