MOSCOW, Idaho – A longtime advocate for helping Native American students finish high school and college is fighting a decision by the University of Idaho to remove her as head of the program she ran for a quarter-century.
As part of Isabel Bond’s battle with the UI, petitions seeking her reinstatement are being circulated on tribal reservations around the Northwest. Signatures are being collected on the Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene and Spokane reservations.
“I know a lot of people who have signed the petition and who are appalled that Isabel has not regained her position as the head of Upward Bound,” said Camille Arthur, a member of the Spokane tribe who went through Bond’s program. “Her position is very significant in Indian country.”
Bond, 72, was removed as director in July 2004, apparently over concerns about problems with student behavior and discipline in Upward Bound’s summer camp for high school students. She says the UI is retreating from helping the students who need help the most, and has dismantled a system that served generations of Native American students.
University officials declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Bond, citing confidentiality rules governing personnel matters. But Upward Bound and UI officials denied they were reducing efforts to help students considered at “high risk” – those whose grades are poor and who likely won’t make it out of high school and into college without help.
“That’s simply inaccurate,” said Michael Highfill, interim coordinator of Upward Bound at UI. “I’d say it’s completely different than that. I’d say support for the program has grown.”
Highfill says the program has begun being stricter about federal guidelines requiring minimum grade-point averages for students to be enrolled in Upward Bound.
Jeanne Christiansen, the dean of the College of Education overseeing the program, said that though there have been changes in program administration, the university remains committed to Upward Bound – as well as the rest of the federally funded programs that help needy or at-risk students.
“We are committed to these students,” she said. “We are committed to this program.”
Bond was the director of Upward Bound, which brings low-income high school students to campus in the summer, for 25 years. She also directed other TRIO programs, federally funded projects targeted at helping at-risk students that bring in about $2.5 million to the UI annually.
Bond was placed on administrative leave in July 2004, and will be terminated at the end of her contract in 2006, Bond said. The action stems from complaints over discipline and behavior problems at Upward Bound camps, ranging from students drinking and using drugs to fighting and sex between students, she said.
Bond says the new Upward Bound leadership dealt with about half as many high-risk Native American students in the 2005 camp as it did in 2004, partly because they were quick to expel students who ran into disciplinary problems. She said those students are the ones who need the most help, and that she always tried to help the students work through their problems to stay in school.
Bond unsuccessfully appealed her removal to the Idaho State Board of Education, which deadlocked 3-3 over whether to hear it. She has filed a complaint with the Idaho Human Rights Commission, alleging age discrimination, and said she would be interested in mediating the complaint. She said she’s not interested in regaining her job for the long term or filing a lawsuit, but wants to help ensure that her programs and approach are continued at the school.
“I’m not so interested in suing the University of Idaho,” she said. “But I think the procedure has been unfair and I don’t think the university should be able to get away with it.”
Beyond the summer program, Bond helped provide a supportive atmosphere for Native students all the way through their university experience.
“I think our Native population feels very removed from the campus environment,” Bond said. “They’re really on the fringe.”
Arthur, the Spokane tribal member helping gather signatures, said Bond helped students find their way through the dizzying combination of changes that Native American students face in the college environment – a transition that is difficult for all students but especially so for students facing significant cultural differences and operating in a predominantly white atmosphere.
Arthur said that program changes since Bond’s departure have hurt the school’s ability to make Native American students feel at home.
“There’s no comfort zone there anymore,” she said. “You almost feel like you don’t belong.”
Christiansen said the UI opened a Native American center last year on campus, and is committed to providing support services for those students – as well as all students who face financial or social obstacles to education. Of the UI’s new freshmen or transfer students this year, 36 percent are the first in their families to attend college.
“We fully expect to continue to work with students to provide the care and attention and support,” she said. “We do not expect that to change.”