Haskell's new president works to build school around cultural values

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LAWRENCE, Kan. - When Linda Sue Warner, Comanche, returned to Haskell Indian Nations University this past spring as its new president, she determined that Haskell was a ''new'' school despite the history of the institution and began looking at how the university needed to change. Her goal is to build a school around cultural values.

''I'm not the same person I was when I was here before and I am guessing neither are the people who work here,'' Warner said. ''So now everything is fresh and new. When I see familiar faces it is like meeting them for the first time - all new.''

Warner said she was happy to see that Haskell had identified its core values: accountability, respect, cooperation and honesty.

''When I saw that those core values had already been identified, I knew I could build a school around that,'' Warner stated.

''I want those core values to permeate around the school. When people meet me and then walk away, I want them to know that I am going to be accountable, respectful, cooperative and honest with them.''

During her work with the Tennessee Board of Regents, she was an associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. What this means for Haskell is a president who has experience in literally all levels of the university. The normal career track for people in Warner's former position is to be named chancellor at a large university within the state of Tennessee. But for Warner, the chance to work with Indian people again was the real golden ring.

During her first 90 days on the job, Warner simply did what she calls an environmental scan of the school. She wanted to know what was going on and where changes needed to be made. Understanding how each department affects others on campus was crucial to the position Warner held in Tennessee and will bring departments closer together in being more client-orientated, she said.

''In other words, if you do this over here, what is going to happen on the other end of the university?'' Warner said. ''If you change a small thing, what does that do? We have already made some changes and about 99.9 percent of the people are happy with those changes. But it's not like it's Christmas and everybody is going to be happy; at some point, someone is going to come in and want to make some changes that won't make any sense. It hasn't happened yet ...''

During the first 90 days, people have started to get to know their new president.

''Last week I had someone come in and he said he had told people that they needed to listen to me because what I say is what I am going to do,'' Warner said. ''I told him he was right.''

One of Warner's passions is to make Haskell a healthier college.

''Maybe we will end up being the healthiest college in the country,'' she said. ''I want a healthier Haskell. We have retrofitted Thorpe Hall and it will be a wellness center, with all the bells and whistles and gadgets.'' She has also challenged coach Al Gipp to ''walk us around the world.''

''We're going to fill the stadium with people and walk. Every mile that we walk we will log, so that in May we will have walked all around the world,'' Warner said. She plans to invite local schools to participate in the walk, which will take place monthly, along with any interested individuals.

Warner is also working with the kitchen staff to get information to students about portion size and diet choices. ''We are also building a little library that will contain indigenous names for what we are eating,'' she said. ''This is just a small part of what we are really trying to do, which is indigenize Haskell. There are Native ways to know about all of the departments on campus. If we are truly an indigenous school, then we need to study about Indians in other places, not just Indian Studies.''

With many changes on the horizon for Haskell, one that struck Warner was on her trip from Tennessee to Haskell.

''I got to thinking about how everybody has a favorite teacher; no matter who they are, someone will come to mind,'' she said. ''They are the ones that years later, a parent may introduce to their children because of the impact they made.'' To Warner, these students who come back are success stories.

She has had staff members working on what she calls ''You Are My Success Story.'' The challenge is to treat everyone they meet like the favorite teacher everyone remembers. When people are treated that way, Warner believes it opens communication lines and changes the way in which people interact with one another.

''Everybody on this campus is a teacher, and every one of us interacts with students,'' Warner continued. ''Wouldn't it be wonderful if, even if you didn't say it every time you interacted with someone else, you thought: 'I don't know what it is I am doing or how I am going to change your life, but some day, in 30 years, you will come back and be my success story.''

As Haskell begins another change in its long history, the determination in Warner's eyes appears to be contagious. On the doors on the outside of the president's office are colorful cards YAMSS staff members have written about co-workers or students. They're something to make people feel good, and something they will pass onto others.

With a smile and a shrug, Warner said, ''You know, when I came here, I told them we are in Kansas. Some people may think I am the wicked witch of the West or Glinda the good witch of the North; I just tell them, 'I don't have a magic wand. All I promised was that I would be accountable, respectful, cooperative and honest; that is who I am.'''