Yarlott: Removal Was ‘Surprising, Disappointing’

Yarlott: Removal Was ‘Surprising, Disappointing’

David Yarlott Ed.D. said his was removal from his position as Little Big Horn College president was, “Surprising and disappointing.”

“I’m just sad and disappointed,” he said in an interview with Four Points Press.

“I did inform them my contract was coming to an end June 30th if they didn’t want to continue me that’s fine, but as part of my contract, if I wasn’t going to remain I would inform the board four months in advance, and if the board didn’t want to continue me, that would be a time to let me know – four months in advance – that they weren’t going to continue me and if they wanted to stop there that would be fine,” Yarlott said.

The Little Big Horn College Board of Trustees spent nearly three hours in a late-night executive session discussing Yarlott’s contract, according to minutes posted to their social media.

“But I did say accreditation is coming up and accreditation is really important and if they would allow me to, I would like to see us through the accreditation process and once the accreditation process is over then I could retire,” he said. “That was the last conversation, if you will, with the board and they were going to go into executive session. I said, ‘I will excuse myself and you can inform me tomorrow what your decision is.’ So, the next morning while I was coming to work, I seen their email. It was really surprising.”

Yarlott said he was driving to work Wednesday morning when he got word of the removal.

“No advance notice, no nothing,” he said “I was just given that day to remove all my belongings and turn in any college property. It was very disrespectful in that sense after all the years I’ve committed to the college, you know how Crow politics are, I just hope they allow the faculty and staff to continue to do the work without disruption.”

“We’re in the middle of the semester and also with the accreditation which is really important,” he added.

An Appointed Board

LBHC Trustees determined that Yarlott could not have entered into a lawful contract in 2020 based on the lack of a duly elected Board of Trustees at that time.  The current Trustees determined that the board members in 2020 were appointed by Yarlott, in violation of the College’s articles of incorporation, according to a press release from the LBHC Board of Trustees.

Moving forward, I’m just going to wait and see what develops.

“They are digging for things they are not going to find,” Yarlott said. “I’ve been pretty up front with everything. Our system of internal controls with our finances, we set it up that so there’d be no perception of embezzlement. I don’t have access to records, the only thing I do is, I take a look at our expenditures. I don’t have access to add or delete anything.”

According to the board press release, all prior actions carried out by Yarlott and the alleged appointed board members are under legal review and further actions, including referrals to prosecution authorities, are ongoing.

“I don’t know where they get the perception that (the board) was appointed. In 2016, when we had the election for the two representatives for each district, only eight got elected, some districts only had one candidate. So, we only had eight (trustees),” Yarlott said. “Then from eight, one of them resigned so we were down to seven.”

At that time, Yarlott said the board went to the legislative branch, “because we did receive from Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities some comments that our board was large for our college.”

“We went to legislature to see if we could change the format of our board. At that time after we made our presentation, The legislative committee told the college reps ‘We have the college autonomy and authority to govern and operate, why are you coming to use for approval’.” Yarlott said.

He said with the agreement of the board attorney the board decided on an eight-person board structure.

“The board moved forward and said if that’s the case and Northwest has been telling us our board has been large, let’s just keep it at the eight at that time, and we can use a nomination and appointment process,” Yarlott said. “That was something I suggested because that’s what the American Indian College Fund does. I was serving on their board, I made that suggestion, they liked that, and they changed the policy around that. So, I never did appoint the (trustees).”

Yarlott said in 2020 the trustees were still talking about how an eight-person appointed board would be configured but then covid hit.

“So, I don’t know where they get this idea that I appoint them, I never did appoint anybody. I don’t even appoint my employees,” he said.

Yarlott addressed rumors that his $20,000 living expense was paid out monthly saying the amount was an annual amount that was paid on a reimbursement basis only based on receipts that were produced and verified.

Another rumor surrounding the removal of Yarlott is that there is roughly $1 million in heavy equipment from the college’s agriculture program in his possession.

“The training process (for the ag program) is situated at the instructor’s place,” he said. “When we finally got the equipment, it was easy access to the students and the instructor for that equipment to be out at the instructor’s place.”

A Legacy

Despite his removal, Yarlott said he wishes the college well.

“I want the students to be able finish. I’m hoping they’ll allow the staff and faculty to continue to work, because it’s important for our students,” he said.

Yarlott was appointed as LBHC President in 2002, two years after Janine Pease was ousted as president.

In January 2001, after a months-long dispute, founder and president at the time Janine Pease was removed from her post. Board members, at that time, said Pease was working without a contract and refused evaluation. 

Pease challenged both board claims, according to newspaper reports, but was still removed. About 100 members of the student body, faculty and staff protested her removal.

Pease founded the tribal college in 1980. It was initially accredited in 1990.

Henry Real Bird was appointed as President after Pease. Two years later Yarlott hired Pease once he was in office.

During his over 20 years as president, Yarlott has seen the college campus through many changes, including the completion of the Driftwood Lodges building, where classes are held and the Cultural Center, both in 2004; the development and completion of the Administrative, Library and Archives building in 2008; and the LEED-certified Health & Wellness Center in 2011.

He said his most proud accomplishment has been working with the accreditation team to move the college from nearly losing their accreditation when he was first appointed to having the strongest full-scale accreditation report in school history in 2016.

“When I came into office, we are on Show Cause status with accreditation, the next step to losing our accreditation,” he said. “It took us a number of years, I say “us” because there was a number of us that it took to get us back on track, and it took us several years. I’d say that was what I am most proud of.”

He said he is also proud of the partnerships the college build with different universities and organizations, so community members and staff don’t have to leave home to get advance degrees, programs like the business administration bachelor’s and master’s program with the University of Mary and the early childhood education bachelor’s program with University of Montana Western that allow students to take all of their classes for their degrees at LBHC.

Yarlott said the biggest challenge as president has always been funding.

Going to DC to advocate for resources, and dealing budget constraints and looking for critical cuts to save the budget were his biggest challenges.

“Making those hard decisions doesn’t sit well with some people, especially when we have to lay them off,” he said.

He has three degrees from Montana State University- Bozeman, including his Doctor of Education. Yarlott has served as dean, department head, and faculty member at LBHC – he is also a graduate. He is on the Board of Commissioners of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, has chaired the American Indian College Fund, serves as an Executive Officer for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and was appointed by the Governor of Montana to be on an Advisory Committee for the Montana Correctional Enterprise.

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