The Thursday before classes were to begin for the spring
2005 semester, DQ University faculty and students gathered for what they
assumed was to be a standard orientation. In fact, the assembled group had
no idea what was going to hit them since everything seemed normal as the
proceedings began with a traditional drum opening and a Cherokee prayer.
When it was time for DQ University President Victor Gabriel to take the
microphone, instead of the usual orientation pep talk, he somberly informed
the assembled group that the school’s accreditation had been revoked.
“I was hoping to have different news, but our accreditation has been taken
away,” said Gabriel to the stunned crowd.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) had only informed
Gabriel and the top DQ University staff the previous day that the school’s
accreditation had been revoked. The action leaves the future of the
institution in doubt.
The 50 or so students in attendance were shocked. Stunned silence gave way
to simmering anger as the news began to sink in. Students questioned where
they would go to school this semester and what would happen to financial
aid that they had already factored into their budget.
Founded in 1971 on surplus government land, DQ University is California’s
only tribal college. The school has struggled for years to remain an
accredited institution. Though officially designated a tribal college, the
school is around half Latino and also has a smattering of white students.
In a letter to the school the WASC said they revoked the school’s
accreditation because they failed to meet several criteria. WASC had warned
the school last summer that they must rectify several criteria or face
Barbara Beno, who works at WASC and was in charge of investigating DQ
University for the institution was not available because she was traveling
to the East Coast and no other official was available to comment on the
School officials report that the only other school currently under scrutiny
from WASC is the University of the Marshall Islands in the U.S. territory
which teaches Native students as well.
Executive Assistant Shiella McCampbell said that the school was already on
the way to meeting several of the criteria and the timing of the
announcement came as a shock. She wondered aloud why WASC would issue their
revocation right before the start of a new semester and not wait until the
school year ended in May.
Gabriel blamed many of the problems, some fiscal in nature, on the previous
administration and said that he had “inherited a mess.”
This past fall the school was warned by the BIA that they were endanger of
losing funds because their Indian enrollment had fallen below 50 percent,
the number that the school must have to receive funding as a tribal
Though there was concern among the staff that the loss of accreditation
would place the deed to the land in jeopardy, Gabriel reassured the crowd
that the only requirement for holding on to the 643 acres was to keep
educational programs going.
For example, other programs at the school that do not require accreditation
appear to be safe including a GED program and some trade-specific programs.
Though Gabriel also promised that at least some college-level classes would
still be held, accreditation or not, he also announced that the dorms would
have to be closed because they would not be able to pay the power bill,
though he was working with Pacific Gas and Electric to keep the power on as
long as possible.
Though WASC had told the school that it would take two years for the school
to regain accreditation, something the senior staff said is difficult to do
when funding is non-existent, Gabriel said the school was working on other
These possibilities include going through another accrediting agency. In
the world of university accreditation, there are several private agencies,
including WASC, which accredit schools. Gabriel said he is trying to reach
one of the other agencies though he did not state which one.
Funding has been a major issue at the school since its inception. Though it
does receive some federal dollars, most of the history of the school is one
of financial paucity. It is interesting to note that tribes with
large-scale casinos are situated in the general area.
One of the tribes, the Rumsey Rancheria, who operate an expensive
Montessori school for about eight tribal children, have not been so
generous with their funding at DQ University and university officials
claimed that Rumsey has only donated on a small scale to the tribal
It is even rumored that several Southern California tribes are pooling
together to fund their own tribal college.
Arrangements were being made with officials from the U.S. Department of
Education for students who had already been promised financial aid to allow
that money to follow them to other institutions this coming semester.
Since the cut-off date for enrollment has already passed at several of the
area’s junior colleges, Gabriel said that his staff was working on allowing
these institutions to extend their deadline in order to place DQ University