The Indian Leader's student Editor-in-Chief Jared Nally, filed a lawsuit against Haskell Indian Nations University President Ronald J. Graham Monday, following a directive in October 2020 that forbade Nally from gathering critical information for journalistic articles.
The directive, which was supposed to total five weeks, lasted 90 days. The directive was eventually repealed in January 2021.
“We’re fighting to be able to hold our universities accountable, because journalism is the watchdog, and therefore student journalists [are] the watchdog of our university,” Nally said.
After the Haskell Indian Nations University president threatened action against the student newspaper's editor-in-chief, professional journalism and First Amendment rights organizations pushed back against the administrator.
Graham said that the delay was a result of an “administrative mishap.”
“That letter that rescinded [the] directive does not restore free speech and free expression rights to students, and so we’re seeking legal options to do that,” Nally said.
The directive touched upon the university’s “CIRCLE” values, which are placed in the student handbook. The acronym “CIRCLE” stands for communication, integrity, respect, collaboration, leadership and excellence.
“I know there was a lot of criticism on the university after my coverage of their handling a student rights case during the pandemic, which left a student homeless and violated their right to due process,” Nally said.
The university also withheld over $10,000 in funds from the paper and refused to recognize it as a student organization.
“We’re kind of a skeleton crew,” Nally said. “It’s been really frustrating. And in part, I think it’s because of the pressures and fears of retaliation that students think will happen if they have a voice.”
A similar situation occurred with The Indian Leader in 1988, when faculty shut down the paper temporarily following “critical coverage.” The following year, an adviser took control of editorial content, causing student editors to sue the university.
The university settled with a statement which promised they would no longer censor content at the paper.
“This, I think, is a public rights issue,” Nally said. “And so there’s no intention to settling to compromise on student rights.”
Nally said the lawsuit precedes the 124th anniversary of the first issue of The Indian Leader, which was first published March 6, 1897.
“There is a need to want to continue that legacy,” Nally said. “I want to be able to graduate from Haskell knowing that I set The Indian Leader up for success to continue that long legacy.”
Haskell Indian Nations University has not yet responded to Nally's suit.