Diné College board removes college president

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — The Diné College Board of Regents voted Oct. 9 to place college President Maggie George on administrative leave and suspension.

The board approved both actions by a vote of 5-0 with one abstention at the meeting in Tsaile, Ariz.

Diné College President Maggie George

Martin Ahumada, vice president of academic affairs, was appointed by the board to serve as acting president.

Board President Greg Bigman confirmed the board’s actions in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Bigman, who represents the Northern Agency, said he could not explain why the board reached its decisions because they were discussed in executive session.

He said the actions mean George is on paid administrative leave for 30 days, and the suspension is unpaid.

When asked to explain the difference between administrative leave and suspension, Bigman declined to comment and referred the question to Lori Tapahonso, the college’s spokeswoman.

Tapahonso forwarded the question in an email to the college’s Department of Human Resources, which did not respond by deadline Thursday.

In a telephone interview Thursday, George said she was surprised by the board’s action. She said she has not been provided with an explanation.

“It was not communicated with me,” she said, adding she left the meeting when the board entered into executive session and learned about the decisions when she returned to work on Monday.

George, who was selected as president in August 2011, said under her administration, enrollment and graduation rates have increased, successful audits have been produced, policy handbooks have been updated, and funding has increased for student support services and building construction.

“I worry about all the grant funding, commitments. It’s going to come to a standstill for a while, and it’s a shame,” she said.

In a statement George emailed after the interview, she wrote that her administration’s progress was not without conflict.

“There were disgruntled employees inside the organization. There were disgruntled employees who had been fired with cause, who waged a relentless campaign to bring this administration down,” she wrote.

During the summer, a group of employees circulated a petition asking the board and the Navajo Nation Council's Health, Education and Human Services Committee, which serves as the college’s oversight group, to discipline George.

There were claims that the college’s administration was responsible for low enrollment, creating a hostile work environment and a disregard for delivering quality education to students.

The board’s action was made after the college announced on Oct. 7 that its enrollment for the fall semester had increased by 24 percent.

The total includes student enrollment at the main campus in Tsaile, as well as the college’s satellite campuses in Crownpoint and Shiprock in New Mexico, and in Chinle, Tuba City and Window Rock in Arizona.

Bigman added during the Oct. 9 meeting that he was elected board president, and the board elected Theresa Hatathlie as vice president, Tommy Lewis Jr. as secretary and Nelson BeGaye as treasurer.

Under tribal law, the college’s board consists of eight members, including the chairperson of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, the Navajo Nation superintendent of schools and the college’s student body president.

The remaining five members represent the Central, Eastern, Fort Defiance, Northern and Western agencies.

Hatathlie represents the Western Agency while Lewis is the tribe’s superintendent of schools, and BeGaye is the council delegate from the Health, Education and Human Services Committee.​

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.