Haskell Indian Nations University: Dear student journalist, we forgot to tell you that you can talk again.

January 19, 2021
  • After three months, HINU president rescinds unconstitutional directive forbidding student journalist from routine newsgathering.
  • President meant to rescind the directive in November, but did not inform student due to an “administrative error.”
  • FIRE files complaint with Department of Education, calls for policy changes to protect students from future censorship.

LAWRENCE, Kan., Jan. 19, 2021 — Haskell Indian Nations University President Ronald Graham has rescinded his unconstitutional directive forbidding a student reporter from routine newsgathering. Graham allegedly intended to rescind the directive on Nov. 20, nearly a month after a coalition of free speech and free press organizations called on him to do so. Shockingly, the university did not inform the student of the rescission until Jan. 14 — three months after Graham tried to silence the student reporter. 

Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, along with the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center, sent a second letter to HINU blasting the university’s blatant disregard for student rights and calling for institutional policy changes to ensure that student reporters are protected from the whims of a college administration with a track record of censorship. FIRE also filed a complaint with the Department of Education, saying HINU “substantially misrepresented” itself by alleging to protect student and faculty free expression.

Jared Nally, editor-in-chief of The Indian Leader, for months was subject to a directive personally signed by Graham that threatened Nally with disciplinary action if he continued engaging in basic acts of journalism. Graham specifically prohibited Nally from criticizing university officials, interviewing government officials, or recording interviews. He also admonished Nally for allegedly failing to treat members of the HINU community with the “highest respect.”

“The university owes Jared and all students an apology and a plan on how they’ll protect student rights moving forward,” said Lindsie Rank, author of the coalition letter. “There’s no excuse for restricting Jared’s rights. There’s no excuse for the delay. And now, there’s no excuse for not making institutional changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

FIRE, NAJA, and SPLC wrote to HINU in October demanding that the university immediately and explicitly rescind its threats against the student newspaper and reminding the university’s leadership that they can be held personally liable for threatening freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

“Fighting for free speech rights has made me realize just how precious those rights are,” said Nally. “It’s something I hope I can secure for future students and Indian Leader writers now that I’ve found my voice.”

Today’s coalition letter calls the 89-day gag order “inexcusable and unexplained” evidence that HINU does not prioritize protecting students’ First Amendment rights. FIRE, NAJA, and SPLC are calling for changes to three policies that restrict students’ rights. As a public institution operated by the federal government, HINU cannot legally restrict student speech protected by the First Amendment. 

The directive rose out of a contentious relationship between The Indian Leader and the HINU administration.

In July, the administration unilaterally removed the newspaper’s faculty adviser and installed its own pick — who happened to also be an administrator. Student editors feared the move would imperil their right to engage as a free, independent student press, and the newspaper’s officers unanimously voted to remove the administration’s choice as faculty adviser. 

On Oct. 5, Nally emailed the Lawrence Police Department with a routine request for information about the death of an HINU employee. As is standard journalistic practice, Nally identified himself as a student reporter. Days later, in his directive, Graham wrote that Nally “discredited” himself and brought “unwanted attention” to the university by making this request of the police.

Further complicating matters, the university ignored The Indian Leader’s repeated attempts to renew its position as a university-recognized organization, ascertain the balance of its account with the student bank, and gain recognition for its former adviser. Graham’s letter — which FIRE received on Jan. 14 — acknowledged the university’s “incorrect approach” and pledged that staffers would review the newspaper’s application status.

The Indian Leader is the oldest Native American student newspaper in the country. In September, the paper won 11 awards from NAJA, including first place for general excellence. 

“Native student journalists are our communities’ next generation of storytellers,” Nally said in October. “Journalism is about being community watchdogs, sharing information with our communities, and providing spaces for voices to be heard. When our university challenges the free speech of students, they are silencing a whole generation of Native voices.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org

Ronald Graham, President, HINU: 785-749-8497; president@haskell.edu 


Schools:  Haskell Indian Nations University

Cases:  Haskell Indian Nations University: President Sends “Directive” to Student Newspaper Editor About “Respect” for Administrators