DAVIS, Calif. — The state's only college run for and by Native Americans has been forced to close after it lost its accreditation and $1 million in federal funding less than a month into this spring's semester.
Officials at D-Q University shut down the community college, laid off more than two dozen faculty members and staff and sent 200 students home. And while a defiant group of students refused to leave, the beleaguered board of trustees split into two rival factions -- with one firing the school's president.
"We're in mass chaos," said Cindy La Marr, chairwoman of one of the factions and executive director of Capitol Area Indian Resources Inc. in Sacramento. "I believe the founders of the school have lost their vision of what the school was for. They're dwelling on the past."
The school's accreditation was revoked by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges because D-Q officials failed to correct six problems.
According to the commission, D-Q's staff lacked sufficient experience, its board of trustees was too small and lacked training, and the school failed to use "established college processes" for selection of courses and programs.
The commission also expressed deep concerns about D-Q's financial condition, including its handling of student financial aid packages and an "impending financial collapse."
D-Q officials blame many of the problems on the decisions of previous administrations, not the current leadership, which, they said, has taken steps toward making improvements. They said the pulling of accreditation -- which takes two years to reinstate -- was unjustified and unfair to students who had just started the spring semester.
"They said, 'It doesn't matter what you've done, or anything else,' " said Dr. James May, D-Q's executive vice president. "You'll have to be unaccredited for two years. That's just a good way to try to kill the university."
Located in Northern California's Yolo County, D-Q is a collection of weathered buildings along a lonely stretch of country highway where sheep graze and tomatoes and alfalfa grow.
These days the campus is deserted, classrooms are dark and hallways are empty.
D-Q University was founded by a group of Native Americans and Chicano activists who in 1970 occupied a former Army communications center for months until the government agreed to allow the 643-acre site to be turned into a tribal college.
The "D" in the school's name stands for Deganawidah, the "Great Peacemaker" who helped found the Iroquois Confederacy. According to school literature, the "Q" represents Quetzalcoatl, "an Aztec prophet who symbolizes the principles of wisdom and self-discipline."
The nonprofit, private, land-grant institution opened in 1971 and first received accreditation in 1977. Some called the school "Terrorist Tech" because of its origins, but it soon became a source of pride to Native Americans -- a departure from an earlier era when their education consisted of boarding schools whose mission was to Americanize children.
D-Q University's mission was to educate students from a Native American perspective, blending "the spiritual and cultural truths of the past, the realities of the present and preparation for the future."
Like other community colleges, D-Q offers associate degrees, but in addition to the standard general education classes, students can study subjects such as "ethno-botany," "introduction to casino operations and management," mural painting and Native American literature.
"D-Q has educated several thousand Native students, including Mexican Indians, students who otherwise probably would never have gone to college," said Jack D. Forbes, professor of Native American Studies at UC Davis. "It has filled a niche that other community colleges would not be filling."
According to a 1996 American Indian College Fund Report, 70% of D-Q students transferred to a four-year college after earning an associate degree.
Unlike most tribal colleges, D-Q is not affiliated with one particular tribe. Students represent a broad mix. They come from throughout California and states such as New Mexico, South Dakota and Arizona.
"We're like a little United Nations here," May said.
D-Q is one of 34 tribal colleges in the United States, many of them on remote reservations in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and New Mexico.
Tribal colleges were created to provide for the educational needs of American Indians living in areas with no access to other schools.
But they also address the need to increase the numbers of college-educated Native Americans, and to overcome the barriers that keep many of them from academic achievement.
Many tribal colleges have faced hardships, often stemming from "insufficient and inconsistent funding at the federal and tribal levels," said Ferlin Clark, president of Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz., the nation's oldest tribal college.