October 28, 2020

A university president this month issued a scathing “directive” at a student editor that forbade him from requesting public records, accused him of “attacking” university officials and staffers in the course of his reporting, and stated that the editor had “discredited (himself) and this university.”

President Ronald Graham issued an Oct. 16 memo — written on the president’s university letterhead — to Jared Nally, editor-in-chief of the Indian Leader, the student newspaper at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.

The directive reads in part, “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.”

The memo outlines Graham’s unhappiness with what appears to be Nally doing the work of any journalist, but seems to specifically focus on Nally’s attempts to get answers around the death of a Haskell employee.

You can read the entire directive here.

The directive has been decried by the Student Press Law Center, the Native American Journalists Association and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Those three entities issued a 17-page letter to Graham this week, pointing out that his actions were “wildly unconstitutional.”

In addition, FIRE has filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior, which runs the university via the Bureau of Indian Education.

It wrote, “Graham’s ‘directive’ is an obvious violation of the First Amendment. It also violates a 1989 settlement agreement between the newspaper and the university, which agreed that it would not ‘restrain, obstruct or prohibit the publication of’ the newspaper ‘or otherwise inhibit the free expression’ of its students.”

Nally said he got the directive via email at 4 p.m. on a Friday.

“When I first got it, I was really upset,” Nally said in a phone call Wednesday, “in part because there’s a whole narrative being told there that I don’t feel like is actually representative.”

Nally, a junior from Colby, Kansas, studying Indigenous American Indian studies, said his first call was to Rhonda LeValdo, who helps advise the paper and is a former president of NAJA.

NAJA’s statement calls for Graham to stop threatening student reporters and respect press freedom. It reads in part, “Indigenous reporters serve as independent monitors of officials and institutions and are essential to transparency, accountability, and Indigenous self-determination. Instead of condemning student journalists and media, NAJA urges Haskell Indian Nations University to celebrate and commend students for their dogged work.”

Haskell is a federally funded educational institution with a student enrollment of about 1,000.

Nally said that he didn’t respond to the directive, and has heard nothing else from the president.

“As a student journalist, I’d only been doing it for a year,” Nally said. “When somebody in authority says things like that about you, it really does take a hit. … I’d say I’m recovering from the gaslighting effects, and feeling like what I’m doing really is every bit a part of journalism.”

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Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
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