Thomas Shortbull, Oglala Lakota College (OLC) president, will be inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame on September 8-9, 2017, in Chamberlain, South Dakota. “I am honored to be recognized as a South Dakota Hall of Fame inductee,” he says. “I wish to express my appreciation to the SDHOF board of directors for this honor.”
President Shortbull’s leadership abilities were first evidenced when he attended the University of South Dakota (USD) from 1965-70 where he served as president of the university’s Wapaha (War Bonnet) Indian Club. In 1970, he received his BA degree in government from USD. That same year his employment career began when he taught for one year at Flandreau Indian School as a Native American studies teacher. After receiving his master’s degree in public administration from USD in 1973, he was selected as the coordinator of the Task Force on Indian-State Government Relations that passed progressive legislation allowing for cooperative agreements between Indian tribes and the State of South Dakota. The task force studied the problems of taxation, hunting and fishing rights, law enforcement issues, water rights, and Indian voting rights. The goal of the task force was to seek cooperative agreements in the areas studied. In 1974, the task force introduced eight bills into the South Dakota legislative session; seven were passed.
One of the areas that was studied led to a report by President Shortbull that concluded there was gerrymandering among three counties on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. His recommendation to the task force was to have Todd, Shannon, and a portion of Bennett County included in a new legislative district that would be a majority of Indian people. The task force did not approve of the recommendation, but the South Dakota Civil Rights Commission and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission did approve the recommendation and forwarded it to the U.S. Justice Department. In 1981, under section five of the Voting Rights Act, South Dakota was required to create a voting district with a majority of the district being Indian people.
In 1982, the newly created legislative district elected its first representatives, and President Shortbull was the first elected state senator from this district that included Todd and Shannon Counties, along with a portion of Bennett County. He served three terms as the legislative district 27 state senator, from 1983-88. From 1980-1995, he held the following positions: director of the Rapid City Indian Service Council (1980-81); coordinator of the Rapid City Johnson O’Malley Program (1992-93); and the Black Hill Pow Wow director. President Shortbull’s greatest success came as president of Oglala Lakota College. He was president from 1975-79, and from 1995 to the present.
During his second stint as OLC president major improvements were achieved, including infrastructure and buildings, more faculty and staff, and stable and expanded finances. During this second presidency, the college added seven new college center buildings on the Pine Ridge reservation, one new college center in Rapid City, a new science center, a multi-purpose building housing a collegiate gym, classrooms for a Lakota language immersion school, and a new bookstore building. Employment gains include OLC going from 100 employees in 1995 to having 320 full-time employees along with 134 adjunct faculty and part-time employees in 2017. The college’s budget has gone from $6.8 million in 1995 to $35.5 million in 2017. Endowments have gone from $1 million in 1995 to having $47.5 million in 2017, including $1.3 in a maintenance endowment, $25.3 million in faculty endowments, and $20.8 million in student scholarship endowments. In terms of financial reserves, the college has gone from no reserves in 1995 to a $4 million in 2017. OLC operates nine college centers on the Pine Ridge reservation, the Rapid City College Center, and a college center on the Cheyenne River reservation. Moreover, OLC administers the Pine Ridge Reservation Head Start Program, a K-5 Lakota language immersion school, and a general equivalency diploma program.
In addition to his work with OLC for the last 22 years, President Shortbull has taken an active role in being an advocate for voting rights. In 2005, he was called by the plaintiffs as an expert witness in the Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine court case that eventually held that South Dakota had to create another legislative voting district in south central South Dakota with a majority of the population in this voting district being Indian people. He actively opposed the July 25, 2013, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that eliminated the preclearance requirement for states who had histories of voter rights violations against minorities. He wrote an op-ed against the Shelby County decision and gerrymandering that appeared in Tribal College Journal, and expressed his belief that this decision would lead to voter suppression efforts by states against Indian people and other minorities
On May 17, 2004, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle appointed Shortbull to the Election Assistance Advisory Commission. He also served on the Executive Board of South Dakota Legislature for one two-year term. He is a past member of American Indian College Fund board, the Rapid City Regional Health Board, and the South Dakota Community Foundation. He currently serves a board of director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
Thomas Shortbull is married to Darlene, his wife of 46 years, whose maiden name is Janis. His three children are Paul, Vanessa, and Frank; and his three grandchildren are Brandon, Sadie, and Jackson. “I believe that the success of Oglala Lakota College was the main reason for my selection as South Dakota Hall of Fame inductee,” says President Shortbull. “I want to thank the past graduates of OLC, the OLC student body, board of trustees members, local board members, faculty, and staff for the work that they have done to make our college very successful.”