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Haskell Alumni Chapters officially cut off floundering foundation

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Haskell Alumni Chapters across the country formally announced they are cutting all ties and support to the floundering Haskell Foundation.

Martha Houle, alumni president, said one reason was the difficulty in getting people to understand that although the nearly defunct Haskell Foundation raised money for Haskell and its students, it never was never an actual part of the university.

Houle, also a Haskell regent, said that issue made fund-raising difficult for alumni members and the foundation's financial problems made dealing with the community difficult.

When Houle tried to set up a banquet for alumni members at a Lawrence hotel, as in previous years, she found the hotel didn't simply want a contract this year. It wanted her credit card to assure payment. Houle said she believes this is a direct result of the way the Haskell name has been sullied in the community because of the recent foundation scandal.

In a formal statement Feb. 1, the Haskell Alumni Chapters said:

"We as Haskell Alumni Chapters, find it difficult to give our continued support to the Foundation. The expenditures and on-going costs are enormous and are continually placing heavier burden on the Foundation, which is already facing a million dollars debt. The Foundation has failed to acknowledge the thousands of dollars that the Chapters have sent. It failed to give any assurance that the funds were sent to help Haskell's library to purchase needed books to meet the requirements placed on the foundation by the North Central Accrediting Agency. Furthermore, we were to learn later that an employee of the Foundation had allegedly, embezzled the Foundation's funds. And to date, no one has been arrested and prosecuted. No more support from the Haskell Alumni Chapters."

The statement went on to acknowledge that the university needs a foundation, but that it would be better served at a distance from the campus. "As a matter of fact, the damage inflicted by the negative publicity surrounding the problems created by the Foundation may never be erased."

" ...Haskell's vision of becoming the nation's leader in Native American Education and becoming the leading institution for Native American research appear to have been relegated to less importance than the Foundation."

It concluded that "Perhaps the Board of Regents should seriously consider giving more attention to those visionary goals established by two administrative faculties during the last decade."

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Houle said the alumni asked questions about some funds sent in, "we asked and asked, but have never gotten any answers. To me it is just a lost cause. We pour money into it and it goes for something else. I haven't heard of anything being done for the students."

One of the biggest fears Houle and others voice is that money meant for students isn't going to them, but to pay foundation debts.

Houle said the alumni are 100 percent behind the students and the university but feel they should be concentrating on those issues instead of rehashing the problems of the foundation. "I felt like we wasted our time, this should have been solved years ago. We feel like they are hounding us to pay a debt that we didn't create."

Part of the problem Houle identified is that is no charges have been pressed against those who were in charge of the foundation. "They're not doing anything to bring in those people who really caused the problem. If they would bring them in and question them and try to get some answers from them ... ."

She said the FBI is still investigating the foundation and its former director, Gerald T. Burd, but nothing has been done yet. "How long do they have to investigate?"

Houle said a report she received after the investigation began concluded it might be too costly to prosecute the former director.

Money that once would have gone through the Haskell Foundation for disbursement to students is being channeled through various church organizations near the campus, the university and the Alumni Association itself.

Alumni have no plans to start their own foundation, but will be watching carefully if another endowment-type foundation is created, she said.

"We're just pulling out, we just don't feel right about supporting something that has so many problems," Houle said.

"I started out all for this Foundation. I went all out for it. ... I felt like we have been used and ... we don't want to be used. We want to help, of course our love is Haskell, it always will be. We're behind the students 100 percent."