January 27, 2021

A Kansas university president who ordered a student journalist not to talk to police or request public records rescinded his order three months ago, but the student reporter just found out.

In October, President Ronald Graham of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, issued a scathing “directive” to student journalist Jared Nally, editor-in-chief of the Indian Leader, the student newspaper.

The directive, issued on the president’s university letterhead, accused Nally of “attacking” university officials and staffers in the course of his reporting, and stated that the editor had “discredited (himself) and this university.” It went on to say, “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 case was taken up by the Student Press Law Center, the Native American Journalists Association and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which issued a 17-page letter to Graham in the fall, pointing out that his actions were “wildly unconstitutional.”

In addition, FIRE filed a complaint at that time with the Department of the Interior, which runs the university via the Bureau of Indian Education. Daniel Burnett, director of communications at FIRE, told Poynter via email that no one from the university notified FIRE or Nally that the order was rescinded.

They only found out, he said, because in late January, BIE notified them that Graham signed the letter on Nov. 20, but did not send it due to an “administrative error” on the college’s part.

“In the last three months, Jared continued working under the unconstitutional directive because HINU gave him absolutely no response,” Burnett said via email. “While we welcome the rescission of the directive, HINU’s failure to rescind the directive for months was an outrageous and clear violation of Jared’s First Amendment rights.”

FIRE attorney Lindsie Rank said in a statement, “President Graham should have focused more on answering questions from a student reporter than unilaterally forbidding him from asking those questions. … The directive was a flagrant constitutional violation from the start, yet it lasted 89 days. That’s 89 days during which the editor of a student newspaper was banned from simple newsgathering tasks like asking questions of officials, criticizing HINU administrators, or recording interviews. We hope HINU learned that they can’t tell student journalists not to be student journalists.”

Graham’s new order reads in part, “I acknowledge that we took an incorrect approach. … I commit that Haskell will not interfere in the affairs of the Indian Leader or impede the free expression rights of individual students at Haskell.”

The new order can be read in its entirety here.

Burnett said FIRE also filed a complaint with the Department of Education.

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

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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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