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Sinte Gleska University president gets reprieve

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ROSEBUD, S.D. - The Rosebud Sioux Tribe overruled the decision of the Sinte Gleska University Board of Regents to fire longtime university president Lionel Bordeaux after a day-long tribal council meeting June 12.

Bordeaux was fired May 23 amid allegations including publicly undermining the integrity of the Board of Regents, absenteeism, failure to report financial accounting to the board of directors and intimidating board members.

Regents appointed their chairman John Spotted Tail, the great-great-grandson of the chief for whom the university is named, as interim president.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal President William Kindle first broke a tie vote opposing an effort by tribal councilmen to dissolve the board's authority, the university's charter and bylaws and reinstate the former president.

But another motion to simply suspend the authority of the board for 60 days and reinstate Bordeaux narrowly passed, 7-5. In it the council directed the board and Bordeaux, who also sits on the tribal council, to meet and report the results of that session to the council by the end of the month.

The issue has divided councilmen and tribal members. Those listening to the debate on a local radio station, drove to the meeting to express their concerns. Many tribal members sat and listened to the debate in their cars outside council chambers.

Bordeaux, in his early 60s, had held the position for nearly 28 years. He came under fire when board members suggested little had been done to improve the university's standing after a scathing evaluation last year of its personnel and financial management by officials from the BIA Office of Education Programs.

The officials cited poor accounting practices, inadequate training of business staff, failure to apply a chain of command, abuse of leave policies and a running deficit.

The university's accreditation is up for review by the North Central Association of Colleges in 2002.

Unlike other universities and colleges whose boards are largely composed of appointees or members elected from a pool of candidates by the board of regents, Sinte Gleska University's regents are elected by the tribal community members.

SGU board member Rose Cordier said she has spent the last eight months trying to learn as much about the operation of the tribal university and its budget, but questions about its finances have gone unanswered.

"Our board doesn't know about the problems of the university because, like I have said, they have never been involved. I've had numerous requests for information.

"It's public information for our tribal members. We have a right to know everything that goes on," she said.

Councilmen struggled with issue because an action eliminating the charter could cost the university its accreditation.

However, Bordeaux told the council, action regarding the board's authority would have no impact on university accreditation.

Tribal universities have had to struggle to obtain accreditation and some have waited longer than two decades to achieve it. Si Tanka Tribal College on the Cheyenne River Reservation, which was on a waiting list, was forced to buy Huron University to achieve earlier accreditation for its programs.

"There has been a question about accreditation. We have contacted North Central Accreditation prior to the termination and they assured us there would be no problem with continuing the accreditation. If they revoke the charter, that would wipe out everything including the bank accounts that would be placed in limbo," Cordier said.

She added that one of the criteria for accreditation is to have an active board with the authority to operate the university. Without that, she said the university fails to meet one of the key standards of accreditation.

"We have to have a board in place that governs the entire institution. We are trying to get back the power that is mandated to us by the charter and the bylaws," she said.

"If you dissolve it, you are taking away power from the people," said Viola Waln, the board's secretary and treasurer.

"I ask you to vote for financial accountability," Waln told the council.

"We know Mr. Bordeaux has done a lot for the university. Let's not forget all the others who have helped him," Cordier said.

"I'm still confused. There are a lot of rumors out there about this meeting. Rosebud Community had a meeting last week and there was a motion passed that this body stay out of this. They are a chartered entity and board elected by tribal members," said Rosebud Councilman David Brushbreaker.

"I would like to refer this back to the board of regents of SGU where it belongs," he said.

Antelope Councilman Earl Bordeaux , a relative of Lionel Bordeaux, collected signatures on a petition last week to consider the issue before council.

"That was done out in Antelope by people who had come to me wanting leadership in addressing this issue. The ramifications of what the board did is affecting the whole reservation," he said.

"We need to address the issue according to the constitution of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. In sending that back, I feel we are not doing our job. There are a lot of tough issues that are going to be coming up and we need to deal with them. This is one of them," Councilman Earl Bordeaux said.

Rosebud Councilman Leonard Wright opposed action against the board, saying dissolving the board would violate the tribe's constitution and be a conflict of interest.

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"The reason I don't support this is because I question the legality ... . I don't think our council should be micromanaging one of our entities out there, especially one that is duly elected," Eric Nixon said.

"Too many times I've seen the council usurp the authority of these entities. This whole meeting should be ruled out of order." Nixon serves on the board as a council representative.

He called Bordeaux's signing the petition to bring the action before council a conflict of interest.

Christine Dunham of Norris, a former SGU board member and a former councilwoman, opposed any council move to suspend authority of the board.

Dunham said when the council dissolved the board early in the creation of the tribal college, Black Hills State University, which held its accreditation, threatened to pull it.

She said the university is failing to meet at least two of the criteria it was founded on, including failure to provide the council with quarterly reports and staying out of politics.

Okreek Councilman Steve DeNoyer also opposed action against the board. He said the tribe shouldn't continue dissolving boards which govern tribal entities nor should the tribal council function as a board for each tribal entity.

"I'm not about to jeopardize the charter in any way. I don't want to act as the board."

DeNoyer said the board should continue to retain its authority and the council should accept its decision to choose new leadership.

Danielle Burnette, a student who was at one time a student representative on the Board of Regents, said she worried about what will become of the college.

"What's going to happen to our college? I'm a student. This is really sounding bad on the radio. Everybody is listening.

"When it comes down to it, I don't think anybody should vote on any of it today," she said.

"I haven't heard the purpose of this university mentioned this morning. It is to educate people, not to please Mr. Bordeaux," said Gene Iron Shell Jr., who came to the council meeting after his morning classes.

"You have no business trying to do away with the Board of Regents."

"I'm one to compromise. This is dividing us worse than the hog farm issue," said newly appointed councilman Wayne Boyd.

South Dakota Sen. Paul Valandra chastised people for supporting the board's decision and said many of the people who favored Lionel Bordeaux's removal from the president's position weren't interested in the college when it was evolving.

"Many of you here today weren't interested in the college when it was struggling. Now that it has developed into something, you want to run it. ... Everybody thinks they can run it," Valandra said.

He added that on a national level everyone looks to Sinte Gleska University which was the first tribal college to receive accreditation.

"What we have here is a board that is micromanaging," Valandra said.

Bordeaux spoke in his own behalf, saying he left a solid career at the BIA to take the helm of a budding university.

"I think we have done a good job in the last 30 years. I've given my whole adult life to the development of education. I had a good career when I first started. They told me I would always have a position at SGU. All of the sudden, I heard a rumor that I was terminated," he said. "I have had a very tense relationship with the board."

Bordeaux said much of his time was spent forming alliances to keep the university afloat.

Two days after his firing, he said he received a letter telling him he had 30 days remaining in his presidency. The board took away his authority to hire, fire or manage finances.

"We have now the vehicle to really continue and enhance the journey that we have to address the past and the future. We need a good working relationship within that institution," he said.

Bordeaux said he was denied due process and an appeal concerning his termination. Other university employees said they were denied due process when they were fired and councilmen suggested the bylaws were outdated and grievance policies needed to be established.

Tribal Chairman William Kindle said he was opposed to dissolving the board or overruling its decisions, adding he didn't believe the tribal council should run entities the tribe has established boards to operate.

The tribal council may be setting a precedent by such actions, he said.

The tribal council abolished its housing board a couple of months ago after residents complained that housing issues were being handled unfairly. Since then, the tribal council has acted as the housing board.