Muskogee, Okla. – Bacone College was established in 1880 and has historically been an institution that educates Native Americans.
The college recently lost a civil case in Muskogee District Court that resulted in a $1 million judgment against Bacone because it did not pay a construction company for work done.
A complaint concerning Bacone College’s accreditation was filed with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
HLC is an independent corporation that grants accreditation to degree-granting, post-secondary educational institutions in the United States. Accreditation is necessary to ensure that credits acquired by students at a college can be transferred to other institutions, and are of a certain level of quality.
HLC has a process in place for students, faculty, staff or members of the public to submit a complaint if they believe that there are problems with the institution’s ability to meet the criteria of accreditation.
Mvskoke Media was provided a copy of the complaint filed by the former Bacone Senior Director of Student Support Services Kendall Scott (Kickapoo).
The 81-page complaint paints a picture of an institution in crisis. It contains examples of Bacone faculty, staff, and students violating policy without repercussions.
The complaint claims that Bacone’s finances are in ruins, with payroll, benefits and basic utilities not being paid for months, if at all.
Events in the complaint cover the time range spanning from March 2021 to March 2023.
The complaint alleges that Interim President Dr. Nicky Michael (Lenape) dissolved all of the school’s committees except the executive committee.
Incidents involving students’ belongings being damaged or stolen are detailed in the complaint.
It also alleges that Bacone relied heavily on recruiting student athletes, with Bacone college coaches regularly promising amenities that they knew the school could not provide.
In addition, the complaint contains the resignation letter of Rhonda Barron (Chickasaw), an educator at Bacone. The letter reads as follows.
“Without regret, I am submitting my letter of resignation. In the 22 years I have been an Educator, I have never experienced the lack of transparency I have experienced at Bacone College.
Since the day I walked into Bacone, I felt the protective need to safeguard all that Bacone stood for. The history behind Bacone and the Native Indian students that have come here since 1880. Since the day I walked into Bacone, I have also been immersed in a political power struggle that has affected students and staff alike. This fight was not mine. I was constantly being approached to side against the administration at that time (Ferlin Clarks). From the very first day, it felt like an explosive place to work. Since the removal of Dr. Clark, it has only grown worse. (More details of current administration abuse will be sent to appropriate agencies.)
I can no longer stand by and see the injustice I have witnessed here. From the lack of resources to the mismanagement of students, finances, and staff. The deceit is deep. I am ashamed for not stepping up earlier and saying something sooner.
To the Board:
You are responsible for making Bacone something to be proud of. I am embarrassed to tell people I work at Bacone. The buildings are rotting in front of our eyes, yet we still charge students to live in substandard buildings with mold. The library can’t get library software to actually check out books and half the collection has been left to decay in the basement of Samuel Richard’s Hall. Bacone can’t get credit at local stores because they know you don’t pay your bills.
You have the power to step up and see what is happening, yet I have never met any of you. You fail as a board of Directors. You have not invested in making Bacone a better place to work and attend as students. I frankly don’t understand what purpose you do serve. You hear what you want to hear, but you do not come and see what you would see.
As a Chickasaw Citizen and a proud Native American, I choose to stand up now and say something when I see something.
A detailed letter of the abuse going on at Bacone will be submitted to the Chickasaw Times, Muskogee Phoenix, and to the Chickasaw Nation immediately following the submission of this resignation letter.”
Barron submitted her letter to an online news outlet, “Muskogee Now”, who published it under the headline “Educator alleges crumbling conditions, warring staff, financial struggles at Bacone” on April 26, 2022.
Alleged Clery Act violations
The complaint also details how Bacone was fined $200,000 for Clery Act violations.
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, support victims of violence and publicly outline the policies and procedures they have to improve campus safety.
Mvskoke Media contacted the Department of Education to verify the fines, but was told that the process could take up to a month.
Mvskoke Media spoke with Bacone Interim President Dr. Nicky Michael and Chief Operations Officer Dr. Leroy Thompson about the allegations outlined in the report.
“We definitely have had previous administrations that have put the school in jeopardy and there is a very large amount of debt,” Michael said.
Michael had previously served as Bacone’s Executive Director of Indigenous Studies and Curriculum under President Ferlin Clark, from August 3, 2020 until March 2021 when she was placed in the Interim President position.
“When I came into the position, mind you, I was the chair of the American Indian studies, I was asked to step into this position, I did not seek it, and I really wouldn’t wish this on anybody. It’s a very huge task and it’s been one day after another, kind of unearthing and un-layering of some of the past wrongdoings and misadministration.” Michael said.
Scott, author of the HLC complaint, spoke to Mvskoke Media about why he filed the complaint.
“When I left Bacone College I was getting a lot of emails and text messages from students saying ‘hey, they’re not taking care of us you know’. When Ferlin (Dr. Clark) was in charge we had shared governance, executive committee and a committee for student violations. But when Nicky got in charge she disbanded all the committees except for the executive committee,” Scott said. “Basically Nicky came in and disassembled all of the regulations that we typically follow for the HLC, during the probation period we were put on probation and we needed to rewrite all of our policies and procedures and we spent the whole summer prior to Ferlin leaving rewriting the faculty handbooks and (student) handbook. We had rewritten them and then we didn’t follow them. As soon as Nicky got in charge we didn’t follow the policy and procedures for the student handbook and the faculty handbook.”
Bacone had previously been put on accreditation probation by HLC in February 2019.
The college spent the next 3 years working to attain HLC compliance and officially regained accredited status in February 2022.
According to Scott, Dr. Clark’s leadership as Bacone President was instrumental in getting Bacone off of accreditation probation with the Higher Learning Commission.
HLC has responded to Scott’s compliant with a letter stating;
“Upon initial review of your complaint, HLC determined that the matter regarding Bacone College raises potential concerns regarding the institution’s compliance with the Criteria for Accreditation and certain other HLC requirements. Due to these potential concerns, HLC will conduct a further review of the institution based on your complaint. HLC will forward your complaint to the institution for formal review and response. The institution will then have 30 days to respond to the concerns in writing and provide appropriate supporting evidence.
HLC will review the institution’s response to determine what action, if any, is needed based on the evidence. The Commission, however, is unable to provide any further updates on the status of the review of your complaint beyond the information included here. If HLC’s continued review of this complaint leads to a formal evaluation of the institution, including the scheduling of an Interim Report, Focused Visit, or other such evaluation, it will be published on the institution’s Statement of Accreditation Status (SAS).”
Mvskoke Media will have continuing coverage of this developing story.