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Haskell students to pay higher fees

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Haskell Indian Nations University students have been told
by the Haskell Board of Regents that they will be paying higher fees to
attend the university. Lack of funding from the federal government and
rising costs are now being passed on to the students. The new fees will
begin with the 2005 fall semester. Currently students pay $105 per semester
if they live on campus and $70 per semester if classified as off campus.
The fees for off-campus students will remain the same, but for those living
on campus the fee will double to $210. Students who use Haskell's day-care
center will also be assessed a $40 per semester fee.

Original proposals for fee increases had been set at $850, but after
protests from students the proposed fees had been dropped to the $210 rate
that the Board of Regents approved on Oct. 8. But with the smaller fee
increase students may find themselves coming up short when it comes to
meals at the university.

Financial aid at Haskell currently does not include student loans so
students must qualify for scholarships, tribal grants or Pell Grants to get
money to live on while attending the "free" university.

Presently the Haskell cafeteria serves 19 meals a week to students.
Students have complained bitterly over the past few years about the
decreasing quality of the food served and it is now possible that even that
may be cut. Haskell officials are now looking at the possibility of either
cutting the three-meal-a: day schedule down to two meals per day or cutting
out weekend meals altogether.

Although there is a student grill, the food served there is not free and
the hours of operation are limited, leaving many students wondering how
they will pay for the meals that may be cut from the school's food service
branch.

The fee increase battle at Haskell has given many students a platform to
voice their anger over what they see as another broken treaty. Vice
President of Academic Affairs at Haskell, Venida Chenault sees it as a
continuing pattern.

"What we are seeing at Haskell is what Indian country is experiencing in
terms of cuts across the board to education, to health care and the
diversion of funds from those programs to pay the expenses of the Cobell
lawsuit," Chenault said. "Like tribes trying to operate programs, we are
finding it very hard to do with the current appropriations."

Chenault said the last fee increase was 15 years ago and that the school
had been operating on level funding all during that time. "We haven't
gotten an increase in 15 years," she said. "We've been operating on level
funding and grants. That level funding hasn't kept tip with cost of living
and inflation and we're essentially absorbing all those increases. We have
cuts in staff, program reductions and trying to find other ways to generate
revenue. For example textbooks. We typically spend, when we have enough
money, about $200,000 on buying textbooks. I believe this year it is down
to about $130,000 to purchase textbooks. What we end up doing is having to
delay purchases of textbooks."

When asked if tribes that are financially able should help fund Haskell or
whether there would be a sliding scale for those who can't afford fee
increases, Chenault stated, "We are well aware that if 70 percent of
students are eligible for Pell Grants there are 30 percent who aren't.
Contrary to common opinion, not every tribe has a casino that is generating
resources ... I don't think that it is a correct assumption that the tribes
are responsible for funding the shortfalls here at Haskell. Certainly we
would welcome that and we have welcomed tribes that have the resources that
have wanted to make donations to Haskell. However; the assumptions that
those tribes that have resources should now be expected to address all the
budget shortfalls, whether it is in Indian Health Service, other types of
education, it's not their responsibility.

Chenault also said that the school is looking at the possibility of letting
students who cannot afford the fee increases donate hours working at the
school, a program that had been in place for several years, but was phased
out.

While the Haskell Board of Regents met in what was to be an open forum
meeting, many students protesting the fee increase complained that they
were unaware that the meeting was open to students. A white sheet of paper,
taped outside the President's office, written in purple marker was the only
notification visible to students many said.

"We didn't know this was a meeting that we could attend," one student told
Haskell President Dr. Karen Swisher. "Others don't know about it."

When students did finally find the meeting they carried protest signs and
were very vocal about how they felt about the fee increase.

The university's financial woes are blamed on inadequate funding from the
BIA. New degree programs that have been added to the university are heavily
dependent on grants from various agencies for their funding.

Even the safety of students has been compromised over the past few years
due to the lack of money. Funding for campus security was cut and violence
against students and staff members has increased since that time.

"Because of the lack of funding from appropriations," Chenault said, "We
are constantly having to shift resources from one critical area to another.
So the impact is fewer people working in the dorms in order to cover the
cost of security.",

Trying to operate a university with such limited financial backing has been
difficult for school administrators and many believe the new increase isn't
going to address the monetary problems that Haskell is facing.

Although many students are protesting the increase some are backing it. In
the Oct. 7 issue of the Indian Leader, Haskell's campus newspaper, reporter
Phillip Swain asked students, "Do you agree with the fee increase?" Some of
the answers were surprising.

"I agree partly because it will provide the students with better
opportunities and needs because everyone is always complaining. I also
disagree because the purpose of the increase does not benefit our
education," Carrie Whitlow said.

"I whole heartedly agree with the fee increase. I believe that it will weed
out the students that feel Haskell is just an expensive party. We are here
for an education, not for a buzz," Randy Batman said.

"I don't like the idea of the fee increase, that's my reason of
transferring from UNM, I thought HINU would help me save money," Nikki
Brown replied.

But those attending meetings and fighting the new increase are angry at the
way the increase has been handled and the lack of accountability about
where the money at Haskell is spent. They are so angry in fact that they
have contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to help them. On Oct. 8,
as they awaited the outcome of the vote, students voiced their frustration
and some wondered how Haskell could afford to pay expenses for board
members' travel, per diem and expenses.

"Paul Ninham is my representative and he won't even talk to us," Nikki
Crowe said.

"My representative George Tiger isn't here," Haskell student Connie Hudson
said. "I hear that he is here all the time, but he's not here for the
meetings. They don't put any importance on what we are saying, they don't
listen. We had a forum and Dr. Gillis [Dean of Students] was there with one
other committee member. She said she was not prepared for the forum and she
had no information for any of us and she couldn't answer questions because
she hadn't had a committee meeting. They want us to trust them but they
keep going back and forth, first they don't give us any information, then
they give us false information.

"For example, yesterday we were supposed to give our presentation, the
students' presentation. But instead Swisher got up there and started a long
monotonous presentation of the plan, first she went over what we pay now
and then what we would need to pay, blah, blah, blah. So there wasn't
enough time for us. She had told us that she was going to give us time
every day. Then she chuckled and said something about she kept hearing
about this conspiracy.

"I think she knows more about conspiracy than we do; we have been open and
honest. We have tried to find a BIA policy and procedure book, but there
isn't one in this whole school. There is supposed to be one in every office
on this campus. I told everyone here that we can just go in and witness
what is happening here. We don't get documented for our representation at
these meetings. The one we attended last spring doesn't even show that we
were there in the minutes. They keep saying we don't participate or get
involved, but they don't document that we are there."