Jared Nally, editor in chief of a student newspaper covering Haskell Indian Nations University, a tribal university in Kansas, is suing the university and the federal agency that oversees it for allegedly withholding funding from the newspaper and retaliating against Nally for performing routine reporting tasks.
Nally and the Indian Leader Association, which publishes the student newspaper, The Indian Leader, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas Tuesday. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, filed the lawsuit on their behalf.
The legal action stems from an October incident in which Haskell’s president, Ronald Graham, sent Nally a “directive” that threatened disciplinary action against Nally after Nally sought information for the newspaper about a staff member’s death, according to FIRE. FIRE, the Native American Journalists Association and the Student Press Law Center sent Graham a letter in October saying Haskell Indian Nations University must clarify that it "will not interfere in the affairs of the student newspaper or impede the free expression rights of individual students in the future." They did not receive a response until Jan. 13, when a lawyer for the Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees Haskell, responded with a letter that was supposed to be sent Nov. 20 but was not because of administrative error, according to the lawsuit.
The lack of response prompted Nally and student newspaper staff to self-censor coverage that was critical of the university in fear of further retaliation, the lawsuit alleges. Haskell continues to maintain a code of conduct that “subordinates its students’ rights to free expression to subjective … values,” the lawsuit said.
The university also ignored requests to recognize The Indian Leader as a registered student organization, preventing the student newspaper from accessing financial resources and withholding funds from it, FIRE alleged.
“In bringing this lawsuit, Nally and the Indian Leader Association seek to hold Haskell’s leadership accountable for flagrantly violating clearly established First Amendment rights,” the lawsuit states.
Klarissa Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Indian Education, said in an email that the agency cannot comment on active litigation.