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University of Illinois’ first vice chancellor of Native affairs: “I feel very disrespected” 

The University of Illinois has decided not to renew its contract with Associate Vice Chancellor for Native Affairs Jacki Rand.

URBANA — The University of Illinois is not renewing its contract with the school’s first Associate Vice Chancellor for Native affairs.

In an interview, Associate Vice Chancellor Jacki Rand said it’s part of a larger problem Native faculty and students face. 

“This place has a really bad history with Indians. And I think they’ve treated lots of Natives who’ve come through this campus very disrespectfully. And I feel very disrespected,” Rand said.

She said the University of Illinois has become notorious among the small world of Native academics and museum professionals, and many are asking about what is wrong with Illinois. 

University of Illinois spokesperson Robin Kaler did not explain why Rand’s contract is not being renewed. She said the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will choose her successor in the summer.

“Our goals and aspiration remain undeterred,” Kaler wrote by email. 

Rand is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Before being appointed as a top administrator at UIUC in 2021, she worked at the National Museum of the American Indian and the University of Iowa.

Her role was to mend relationships with Native tribes pushed out of central Illinois, but she said the university did very little to support her after the hire. 

Rand said the university never gave her the funding they promised, and her superiors would not respond to her emails. 

The University of Illinois budgets from fiscal years that ended in June 2022, 2023 and 2024 do not include a line item for her office. The budget for salaries and initiatives under the vice chancellor for diversity in Urbana-Champaign increased from $2.9 million before her hire in fiscal year 2021 to $4.5 million in fiscal year 2025. 

Rand said that despite this lack of support, she started major initiatives.

She created a bridge program to help Native American high schoolers learn about going to college and meet with one another. She has scheduled conferences with tribes to discuss what they would like from the University of Illinois. She has helped start a website for K-12 teachers to help them teach about Native Americans, as required by a new state law

She has talked with the University of Illinois Arboretum about creating an indigenous garden for a hands-on history class. And she coordinated an agreement with the College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences that will allow the Shawnee Tribe to grow culturally important corn on Illinois land. 

Rand said she accepted the assistant vice chancellor role to get some work done for Native people. 

“And I did. I am thrilled, I got the Shawnee seed project, and I’m over the moon about that project. I’ll go to my grave feeling proud about that project,” she said. 

Rand said she plans to continue as an assistant professor of history and American Indian Studies after her administrative role ends in August. 

She said the Shawnee seed project will continue, and she plans to teach the hands-on history class herself. She hopes the university will maintain the bridge program itself. 

When people ask her how she is doing after learning about the end of her contract, she thinks about the strong, Native women in her family, including her mother, a boarding school survivor. 

“It would be insulting to them for me to fall apart. I’m not going to do it. Ever,” she said.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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