(Hello my friend),
In early November we were notified by St. Gregory’s University of its intent to suspend operations of the university at the end of the fall semester following the denial of their loan application by the United States Department of Agriculture.
I am deeply disappointed that the university has had to make this difficult decision. The loss of St. Gregory’s will have a profoundly negative impact on our community. We understand that this will impose significant disruptions in the lives of the students, faculty and staff of the university, many of whom are our friends and neighbors.
We are committed to working with the school and other higher education institutions to ensure that our CPN students can continue their education.
In August 2015, we established a $5 million prepaid tuition program between St. Gregory’s Abbey, Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the university, providing scholarships to tribal members over a six-year period, with 60 students receiving up to four years of full scholarships to attend St. Gregory’s. CPN is well secured in this transaction and its bank loan, so no tribal money will be lost.
Just after the agreement took effect in fall 2015, 15 CPN students were enrolled at SGU. There are currently 87 CPN students at the university.
We formed close ties to the Benedictine monks living in Indian Territory in 1875, leading to a more than 140-year relationship between the tribe, the university and the abbey. We’ve had a partnership with the monastic community since our ancestors helped two French monks found the school at the original site at Sacred Heart Mission.
In addition to the $5 million in prepaid scholarships, the tribe helped to facilitate loans through the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and the tribally-owned First National Bank. The university property, as well as property in excess of 400 acres, was pledged as collateral for the loan.
The university has been a pillar of this community with a more than $20 million annual economic impact, and because of our shared history with the school and mission, we made it a priority to help sustain the university through these tough times.
The university recently learned its application for funding from the United States Department of Agriculture had been denied. A letter from Karen Washington, acting state director for USDA, stated that the loan was denied because of a requirement that the applicant be located in a town with a population of less than 20,000. The City of Shawnee previously passed a highly limited de-annexation and declared in open meeting its intent to maintain municipal control of the property — a “quasi de-annexation.”
The letter stated that the de-annexation of the subject property in 2017 was primarily to meet the rural area eligibility requirements for the loan. They had reviewed both the minutes of the City Commissioners and the video of the meeting with the Office of General Counsel and found no other reason/justification cited for the de-annexation beyond meeting the rural area eligibility requirements for the loan, which is why the loan was denied. Virtually every university in Oklahoma has some form of independent municipal status, most with their own water, sewer, police and municipal tax authority.
The loan was a portion of the funds awarded to the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation in 2016. The USDA program allocates long-term, low-interest loan funding for community facilities in rural American communities with a population less than 20,000. The funds are distributed by the federal agency to eligible re-lenders such as the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation, who then re-loan those funds for the construction
or maintenance of community infrastructure.
The CPCDC recognized the importance of the university in Shawnee and believed this funding was an opportunity to sustain the university in our community. It’s unfortunate that because of the detachment proceedings, their application has been denied.
During the Jan. 17, 2017, meeting of Shawnee city commissioners, city staff outlined the conditions of the de-annexation, which included requirements that the university maintain agreements to purchase fire protection, water service, and sewer service from the City of Shawnee. It also required the university to adhere to city code and permit regulations and included conditions for re-annexation.
City Manager Justin Erikson said during that meeting that the detachment was a necessity for continuation and financing and that there was no other option.
The 520 acres detached by Shawnee city commissioners were of the subject of the same ordinance illegally annexing land owned by Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The tribe originally requested detachment after an unlawful attempt by city officials to collect city sales tax from CPN enterprises. On Jan. 20, 2015, City of Shawnee commissioners denied a request by Citizen Potawatomi Nation to detach its tribal lands south of the North Canadian River. A lawsuit related to that request was also on the Jan. 17, 2017, meeting agenda.
During comments from commissioners, City of Shawnee Mayor Richard Finley cautioned city stakeholders not to see the detachment of St. Gregory’s as “weakness,” saying, “Don’t think we’re just going to roll over when those things come up.” That statement was directed at CPN, but hurt St. Gregory’s a great deal.
The commissioners later took no action on the CPN lawsuit.
I believe that the ancillary agreement between the City of Shawnee and St. Gregory’s was an attempt to prove to CPN that the city was only willing to cooperate on its own terms. The entire agreement was part of a plan to continue to deny us de-annexation.
Ultimately, these actions forced the university to close, and now the city will lose one of its greatest assets. Politics has destroyed one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Oklahoma for no other reason than “control” and racial bias toward CPN. While CPN will lose no money, many students will see a delay in their education. More than 80 colleges and universities have volunteered to help place these students and acknowledge their college hours without loss.
John “Rocky” Barrett
(He Leads Them Home)