A student reporter at the federally run Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas has filed a lawsuit against the school and its president for ordering him not to take part in routine newsgathering for an extended period of time.
It was only weeks ago that Haskell rescinded its restrictions on student reporter Jared Nally.
At the time, Ronald Graham, the president of Haskell Indian Nations, belatedly restored Nally’s permission to cover events for the student newspaper, The Indian Leader, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known as FIRE.
FIRE, along with the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center, blasted HINU in a letter last October for violating the student’s rights and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
“The university owes Jared and all students an apology and a plan on how they’ll protect student rights moving forward,” said Lindsie Rank, author of the letter to the university. “There’s no excuse for restricting Jared’s rights. There’s no excuse for the delay. And now, there’s no excuse for not making institutional changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Now FIRE and other groups are supporting Nally is a lawsuit against the school.
“Nally wants Haskell Indian Nations University, a public institution operated by the federal government, to answer for the 90 days he was silenced, without any due process, under a directive that banned him from engaging in basic acts of journalism,” FIRE said.
Additionally, the student wants Haskell to restore more than $10,000 of funding that the university inexplicably shorted the newspaper, approve its registration as a student organization, and revise the unconstitutional policy on campus speech used to issue the directive.
“Joining our student newspaper gave me a voice, and unfortunately it’s going to take a lawsuit for the university to listen to it,” said Nally, editor-in-chief of Haskell’s award-winning student newspaper. “It’s important for student journalists to not only know our rights, but also our role. We exist to hold our university accountable and to inform our fellow students and community. We have a right to press freedom and to share these stories.”
Last October, Graham issued a directive that threatened Nally with disciplinary action for asking for information from government agencies, and for allegedly failing to treat Haskell community members with the “highest respect.”
The Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center also have joined the action.
“Nally labored under the threat of punishment for months. On Jan. 13, the Bureau of Indian Education, the federal agency that oversees Haskell and is a named defendant in the lawsuit, finally responded to FIRE. According to the bureau, Graham meant to rescind the directive after FIRE’s initial letter, but the undated letter was never sent due to an ‘administrative error,’” FIRE said.
FIRE explained: “The directive highlighted an already-contentious relationship between The Indian Leader and Haskell. Administrators repeatedly ignored Nally’s requests that the administration recognize the newspaper as an official student organization. Without this recognition, the paper does not have an official adviser, cannot receive full funding, and does not have regular, reliable access to its student bank account. Haskell withheld more than $10,000 in funds from the paper without any notice or explanation.”
The complaint contends Haskell departed from its obligations under the First Amendment by requiring that student expression comply with “vague and subjective” standards such as “respect.”
“Haskell is making it very clear that they put institutional reputation above student rights,” said FIRE attorney Katlyn Patton. “We’re not only defending Jared’s constitutional rights, but the rights of all Haskell students, and student reporters across the country. In doing so, we’re showing public institutions that the First Amendment is non-negotiable.”
The Indian Leader is the oldest Native American student newspaper in the country. In September, the paper won 11 awards from NAJA, including first place for general excellence, FIRE said.
FIRE called Graham’s first letter to the student a “meandering, scolding screed” and warned it “has long been settled law that the First Amendment is binding on public colleges like HINU.”
FIRE noted that HINU is operated by the federal government and therefore must uphold students’ First Amendment rights along with the requirements of a 1989 settlement agreement between the university and the student newspaper.
The agreement gave students full editorial control over The Leader, including the right to access its funding, “as well as its right to engage in journalistic pursuits free from censorship.”
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