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Little Big Horn College president under fire

CROW AGENCY, Mont. - The president of Little Big Horn College was ordered to resign and vacate her office by end of business Nov. 30.

College trustees told President Janine Pease Pretty On Top to clear her office, return all keys and computer passwords and vacate the office after an emergency meeting in which eight trustees declined to renew a proposed three-year contract.

Pretty On Top has served as the college's president since 1982. Before that, from 1975-79 she worked on the Crow Central Education Committee responsible for helping to open the college. She is internationally recognized for her work in Indian education.

Students protested the decision, after the letter calling for her removal was leaked to the press Nov. 22. They said her removal would leave the college in danger of losing accreditation. Some 30 students and former students picketed outside the college entrance early in the week and marched from the college to the tribal offices the following day.

When the students, faculty, and supporters reached the entrance to the Crow Tribal Administration offices they demanded to see Tribal Chairman Clifford Bird In Ground. Instead they were greeted by security guards and Tribal Vice Chairman Vincent Goes Ahead Jr.

Goes Ahead tried to answer their questions while tribal workers and some trustees watched from within the building. Goes Ahead agreed to meet with the students and LBHC board members to listen to their concerns.

In the past Pretty On Top worked without a contract, but said because she is managing a capital fund-raising campaign for a new facility, she felt the need for the three-year guarantee to be able to see the project through.

Pretty On Top disputes the validity of the letter, saying the board which she believes includes 17 members, did not have a quorum. In addition, she said the acting chairman of the trustees, Dillard "Mike" Bird In Ground, was not present, and absent members of the board had not been properly notified of the meeting.

Mike Bird In Ground said he was notified of the meeting, but did not consider it valid, therefore, did not attend. He wrote a memo stating his decision and faxed it to all the board members before the meeting.

Questions over the number of board members arose after a 1999 tribal resolution seated the four tribal-elected officials. In the past the board consisted of two representatives from each of the six reservations districts, one faculty-student representative and one representative of the tribal chairman.

Board members maintain they number 14, and that the board's bylaws state eight members make a quorum.

In regard to community meeting, Goes Ahead said, "We want to hear both sides of the story and take it from there."

Tribal Chairman Bird In Ground was unable to attend all but the first 10 minutes of the meeting with students, but Vice Chairman Goes Ahead and Secretary Larney Little Owl heard questions from students regarding funding, accreditation, stability of LBHC and the legitimacy of board actions. Board chairman pro tem Sharon Peregoy answered each question but was unwavering in her stance that the board's action are legal.

Mike Bird In Ground said he believes the college belongs to the students.

"A lot of this trouble started over personal difficulties," he charged. "Certain people on the board felt it was time to make some changes. People with petty complaints have managed to escalate to what we have right now."

At press time the tribal officials were planning no further action in the matter.

"The administration wants to keep the college's business at 'arm's length'" said Crow tribal spokesperson Channis Whiteman. "To do otherwise could affect their accreditation status."

"It's benign approval of their actions," Pretty On Top said. "He has his head in the sand."

In an interview at the tribal offices, Peregoy, the chairman's representative on the board, and education director for the Crow Tribe, listed other concerns of the trustees.

"Things were going from bad to worse with personnel issues," she said. "There is a high turnover of faculty and the percentage of American Indians on the college staff is low. We'd like to recruit and retain more Crow people. You have to have people knowledgeable of Crow culture, they can't carry out the mission of the school if they don't know about us.

"The audits haven't been closed for the last two years, and for whatever reason it hasn't been resolved even with the CPA that's been hired." Peregoy said. "And what really alarmed people was last year's graduating class only had eight students. The enrollment is really down. The board had projected to have 500 students by the year of 2000 and there are less than 200 students over there right now."

Board member Vera Jane He Does It, a business owner and rancher, said she is concerned over the enrollment and faculty. "If it hadn't been for the college I would never gone on and got my degree," she said. "I worry over the survival of the college."

Peregoy said she was also concerned that Pretty On Top was painting a picture in the media of an uneducated and inexperienced board.

"More than half of the board has college degrees and some have been on the board for 15 years," she said.

In response to those charges Pretty On Top said the college has a higher number of Native staff than most other tribal colleges and that enrollment was up from the last two years. She said the audits were behind schedule because of some personnel difficulties and a changeover of software programs, which was ultimately unsuccessful. She said the situation was further exasperated by the ill- health of the dean of administration, who oversees the finance office.

"The 1997 audit is complete, the 1998 audit will be done soon and the 1999 audit, which is not due until February, is also nearly complete."

"It was the year from hell," Pretty On Top said of losing both her brother and a nephew. "And I'm the only one left so I guess they think it's my fault."

Peregoy said the trustees would announce an interim president at their regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 30 which supporters said they would attend.