From Choctaw Nation to Penn State: Grayson Noley And His Educational Journey

S.E. Ruckman
4/8/11

NORMAN, Oklahoma—To get a better read on Grayson Noley, try looking at his Curriculum Vitae (CV). It’s 19 pages long and meanders like a stream from humble beginnings in the Choctaw Nation to Penn State.

Noley currently serves as an associate professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies on the faculty of Educational Administration/Curriculum and Supervision at the University of Oklahoma (OU). He came to OU in 1996 to be academic chair of Educational Leadership and Policy and stepped down voluntarily about a year-and-a-half ago after serving 13 years in the position.

He curries the idea that Indians are vastly underrepresented in higher education administration circles, excluding tribal colleges.

“I know of no Indian (at a mainstream college) who is the Dean of his college,” he said. “I don’t know of any Indians who are vice presidents or presidents in college.”

At OU, one Indian serves as the department chair for the Indian students. More women have been placed in leadership positions at OU which is a change since the early days of Noley’s career, he said. Next came some minorities, but Indians are low on the minority totem, he said.

“There are people who are prepared, but a college’s president or provost has to be committed to hiring minorities,” he said. “It’s more than a matter of gender or race, it’s a philosophy.”

As a young Choctaw man, he graduated from Wilburton High School in 1961 deep within the Choctaw Nation’s 11-county jurisdiction. Crowded into a big family of four brothers and one sister, he watched an uncle (his mom’s first cousin) coach locally and took his cue from there that education was the pathway for him.

“We grew up without anything,” he said. “It was the idea of getting a job, so we learned to prepare ourselves for the world of work.”

After getting his undergraduate degree at a local college (Southeastern Oklahoma State University), Noley ended up at Pennsylvania State University, where he received his master’s and a doctorate degree in education. Fate kind of stepped in there, he recalled.

“I was going to OU at the time, but I had some friends who encouraged me to go to Penn State for post-graduate work in a program the school had. So I did.”

Back to his CV, he has more than 26 items of published works and has received grants (grantsmanship) for millions of dollars, all in the name of trying to better Indian higher education.

“I set my course,” he said. “I prepared myself as a professor and was committed to being a professor.”

Indians who take on higher education (via mainstream) are still the minority, according to national statistics. The 2009 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey says that of the 2.4 million self-identified Indians in the country, 13 percent have claimed a bachelor degree or higher. In Noley’s home state of Oklahoma about 15 percent of the state’s estimated 1.4 million Indians have a college degree. No bureau statistics are compiled on the number of Indians in higher education administration, Census officials said.

Still, Indians at mainstream colleges manage to find a niche. At Kansas University, Cherokee Nation member Stacy Leeds is serving as interim associate dean of academic affairs at KU’s Law School. A long-time member of her tribe’s high court, she moved to KU several years ago.

Leeds thinks developing fertile ground for Indians in academic leadership is basic, effective and a work in progress.

“The only way there will more American Indian university administrators is if there are more Indians at all ranks in the university system, starting with students. Like so many other areas, a solid pipeline is the key,” she said.

She favors college departments placing minority faculty as chairs of important committees, for starters.

“Unfortunately, many minority professors or staff that would be outstanding administrators have to look beyond their own institutions for leadership development and mentoring and this creates additional burdens.”

Meanwhile, figures from the Chronicle of Higher Education, decry a lack of diversity in academia. The American Council for Education (ACE) claims that Indians only make up 1 percent of chief academic officers across the country in 2009, compared to 85 percent who are white and 6 percent who are African American and 4 percent who are Latino.

Tribal colleges seem to even out the academic playing field because faculty, administration and students are mostly Native. This venue familiarizes budding Native students to the notion that being Indian and being educated is a common experience. Today, some 36 tribal colleges belong to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).

Noley believes that when Indian students who do get their degree make it the employment level and are hired by tribal colleges, it drains the pool of qualified Indian educators who might make good candidates for mainstream college administration positions.

“That’s a contradiction we need to learn to deal with,” he said. “But we never have enough (Indians) in school leadership.”

For others, good mentors do a lot when added to a commitment to diversity. At University of New Mexico School of Law, Kevin K. Washburn (Chickasaw), said getting the job comes first, with race a pale second to performance.

“Once I got the job, I received no special favors because of my identity. I am required to meet all the standards required of a ‘dean’ and not even the other American Indians on the faculty are inclined to cut me breaks because of my Indian identity,” he said. “And each day, I am required to prove myself again and meet the high expectations of each of the many constituency groups: students, faculty, university leadership, alumni, legislators and the judiciary.”

And if more Indians are needed in higher education administration, Noley stepping down as department chair seems contradictory. But he feels secure. In 2007, he suffered a heart attack that made him rethink his goals.

“I had the kind of heart attack brought on by stress and genetics,” he said. “I can’t run away from who I am but I can reduce the stress, I thought. So I did.”

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gamma's picture
gamma
Submitted by gamma on
Grayson Noley looks like any other White man. Why don't Indians who are dark-skinned like me make it? And what, if anything, can we do about it? I don't have the answers but I do know that when I write to White Indians in academia asking for their advice or suggestions, they never reply to me. NEVER! But whenever I write to a dark-skinned Indian, I always get a reply back. Always! And Grayson Noley is incorrect when he says there are no Indian deans. There is a Dean who is Indian. She is at Dartmouth College. She looks African American but she is Narragansett Indian. And yes, she replied to every single one of my emails. Unlike White Indians.

gamma's picture
gamma
Submitted by gamma on
I realized that Stacy Leeds (Cherokee) who is quoted in the above article is also White. Almost every opinion editorial I see in ICT is written by a White or a White Indian. I don't like that and I see ICT making an error because it seems to view White Indians as having Indian interests at heart. The White Indians I have known don't genuinely have Indian interests at heart, even though I have frequently seen them make a show of Indian interest. White Indians display Indian interests but that is almost always because they can be "identified" as Indian by their White brothers and sisters. Trust me please, I live with my skin color every day, experience racism every day and meet Indians who are Caucasian as well as Indians who are of other ethnicities every day. And it is invariably Indians who are themselves likely to be discriminated because of their skin color who are genuinely Indian at heart. If you look White, you get treated White and you lose the "himdag" you have with Indian people. Go to an IHS facility where there is an "Indian" physician who looks White and see how he or she treats the Elders in your family who are not very sophisticated or educated, and you will know what I mean. White Indians treat the traditional elders in my family like dirt - and I know of no exceptions yet.

justme's picture
justme
Submitted by justme on
Gamma, sounds like you have a lot of bitterness in your soul. You are preaching prejudice and discrimination- its okay for you to practice it but not for others to practice against you? Every person is an individual and has different perspectives. I have been treated better by whites than indians on many occasions. I dont think you should lump everyone in a White INdian catagory and speak bad things-thats just ridiculous. How much caring someone has for Indians in their heart cant be measured by the color of their skin, light or dark. Besides, I dont think Noley or Leeds look white. sounds like jealousy is haunting you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I agree - most Choctaws who succeed with their college degrees "look White." Those of us darker-skinned ones who "look Black" get treated just as badly as African Americans in the job market - i.e. job-search time in my house is known as "Passover." The minute people see me they think I lied about being Choctaw and as such, everything else on the resume or application must be a lie, too. But in this day and age of 100+ applicants for every job, anything that looks amiss at all, wrong color skin, wrong hair style, wrong gender, (for Math teaching jobs), whatever, it's "thanks for stopping by. Next!" even at the paper-screen level. My lighter-skinned father who was a mathematician who went to UCLA after World War 2, used to tell me that it should be easier for me to get a job teaching Math than it would have been for him, as male it would have been 20 times or more harder for him to get a job in a public school teaching math to other people's children than it would be for me, a female. WRONG. I'm sure he's turning over in his grave to this very day. I can't count how many times I get "YOU'RE the math teacher" type attitudes or things said that imply that when people see me. As if they think "my race" is supposed to be too stupid for math or science - and it's not Choctaws they assume are that stupid. It's blacks. I as Choctaw have to live down the stereotypes of Blacks in my search for a Math teaching job.

choctaw1997's picture
choctaw1997
Submitted by choctaw1997 on
I agree - most Choctaws who succeed with their college degrees "look White." Those of us darker-skinned ones who "look Black" get treated just as badly as African Americans in the job market - i.e. job-search time in my house is known as "Passover." The minute people see me they think I lied about being Choctaw and as such, everything else on the resume or application must be a lie, too. But in this day and age of 100+ applicants for every job, anything that looks amiss at all, wrong color skin, wrong hair style, wrong gender, (for Math teaching jobs), whatever, it's "thanks for stopping by. Next!" even at the paper-screen level. My lighter-skinned father who was a mathematician who went to UCLA after World War 2, used to tell me that it should be easier for me to get a job teaching Math than it would have been for him, as male it would have been 20 times or more harder for him to get a job in a public school teaching math to other people's children than it would be for me, a female. WRONG. I'm sure he's turning over in his grave to this very day. I can't count how many times I get "YOU'RE the math teacher" type attitudes or things said that imply that when people see me. As if they think "my race" is supposed to be too stupid for math or science - and it's not Choctaws they assume are that stupid. It's blacks. I as Choctaw have to live down the stereotypes of Blacks in my search for a Math teaching job.

choctaw1997's picture
choctaw1997
Submitted by choctaw1997 on
Gamma, thanks for making it clear to me (I've been wondering all these years) that I should have picked Dartmouth instead of Yale. It has the highest percentage of Natives of all the Ivies. I picked Yale over it because of the "name recognition." You don't know how many stupid employers or hiring managers have never heard of Dartmouth or Johns Hopkins - even in the world of high school math teaching!! Or maybe that level of ignorance is just what I'm facing from the general population in the US Southwest, also in Canada's "Indian Country." Johns Hopkins doesn't make any pretense of being good for Natives (neither does Princeton) it's just the best school for biomedical engineering and biotechnology. Unfortunately Hopkins does have the reputation for graduating the most African Americans in the sciences (or something along those lines) so there I go again, getting lumped in with Blacks in the job market. Maybe I can still transfer to Dartmouth.....as if any of it matters if you have dark skin and are Choctaw. You "look black" you get treated "like black" in society and the job market resembles "Passover."

Ronald Oxendine's picture
Ronald Oxendine
Submitted by Ronald Oxendine on
Friend, the good old days at Penn State hold very favorable memories-- We have a lot in common these days--Drop me a line at ronald.oxendine@co.robeson.nc.us
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