Episode 7 – Tribal College Movement
In this episode with Tom Davis, he talks about his experience in developing the College of the Menominee Nation.
Tom was the President of a software company and didn’t like it. He felt he belonged in education and among the American Indians.
Tom got sick and did a lot of reflection. Ethel has always been a great support for Tom and has encouraged him throughout everything. Ethel is an artist and a great poet. They were at an art fair where she was showing her art. Verna Fowler, who Tom worked for in the restoration committee, came up to Tom while he was tending the booth. Verna wanted a commitment from Tom to start a Tribal College. There wasn’t any money, but she will get money out of the tribe so they can have a small wage. Without really thinking about it, Tom agreed.
They started working on founding the College of the Menominee Nation. It started in the basement of Verna’s cottage.
The nation today is better at closing down colleges, than starting them. Our nation doesn’t encourage creativity and taking a chance. Rather than letting little organizations start and flourish, it’s better to be a Walmart and deny the start-up. You worry about that.
They went over to The University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to meet with the Chancellor and several leaders of that university. They agreed. The deal was they would get the tuition out of the students they would raise.
They hired seven teachers from Wasa and Stevens Point and went out into the community and told them they were starting a college. They ended up starting a college with around 30-40 students. They started the college with no strategic planning, just the determination they had and the rest would be figured out as they proceeded.
Between the two of them, they sort of knew what they had to do. They first went to AIHEC and asked to become a member of AIHEC. The next meeting AIHEC approved them as a Tribal College and that was the key to getting into the Bureau.
They got the two senators to pass legislation to become a part of AIHEC which in turn covered more than enough of the cost to become a member of AIHEC.
They got some money to build a small building and agreed on a design. They tried to add a second story, but Tom had to find additional money to make this happen. Eventually, they got their nice two-story building.
They soon started on the process of accreditation. They met with Steve Crow to help with getting accredited. On the way back, they stopped at the Newberry library, located in Chicago. They had to have a library for the college, so the Newberry library gave them a bunch of books. Tom rented a big van to transport the books back. The library staff managed to give them a whole library worth of books.
The families of the people who started the Tribal Colleges paid such a huge sacrifice and deserve such an honor for allowing the men and women, who were at the heart of founding the colleges, to do what they had to do to succeed. Tom worked all night and into the next day often.
The preliminary form was completed within a month, along with the catalog, syllabi and everything else needed to establish college. Soon enough it was approved by the Northcentral Association of the Higher Learning Commission. As a result, they were now a formed college within the Midwestern region.
Then they put together the self study.
The College of Menominee nation became one of the institutions of Higher Learning in the United States and was recognized as a Tribal College.