December 21, 2020, Denver, Colo.— The American Indian College Fund (the College Fund) and its governing board of trustees is saddened to learn of the death of Robert Bible, President of the College of Muscogee Nation (CMN), a tribal college in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. President Bible was known throughout Indian Country for his selfless dedication to his community and for his outstanding contributions to American Indian higher education with his humility.
Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said on Facebook, “Today, I received the unfortunate news that the Muscogee Creek Nation has lost an incredible asset to our tribe, and the Cabinet and leadership group has lost a tremendous friend with the passing of Mr. Robert Bible. Mr. Bible’s legacy will live on with generations of graduates and the continued advancement of our College of the Muscogee Nation, where he served as President. From its conception, Mr. Bible has played a crucial role in the construction, development, growth and ultimately the national accreditation of CMN. His impact is immeasurable as is the effect his work has had on the education and lives of so many students. He had several titles. He was President Bible, a mentor, and a coach to so many but to those closest to him he was a father, a husband, a grandpa and a friend.”
President Bible began service on the College Fund’s Board in 2016 and was re-elected to his second term in 2019. He served on several committees, beginning as a member of the Nominating and Governance Committee, and in served in several leadership positions, including as the Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee and as the First Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and a member of the Executive Committee.
President Bible was known for his commitment to students and community, his teasing nature, and his humility. When the College Fund Board of Trustees met on CMN’s campus in Oklahoma, people noted that the location of his office was in a maintenance area. This was by design. He was committed to having his staff members be accessible to students.
President Bible was committed to the success of CMN and successfully led the College to accreditation status by engaging the entire college campus and community in the accreditation process. Throughout his day-to-day work, he was known for working closely with the tribal council, whose members speak highly of his leadership. He was always willing to share information, his experience, documents, and processes with other developing tribal colleges and universities (TCUs)—as well as his time, increasing his leadership throughout the years with the College Fund and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, while providing guidance and insight to several new presidents and institutional and tribal leaders.
Because of his exemplary leadership and commitment to Indian Country and education, the American Indian College Fund named President Bible as its Tribal College and University Honoree of the Year in 2019, presenting him with an honorarium.
In an interview with President Bible that was published to mark his naming as Tribal College Honoree of the Year, he shared that even as a grown man, his favorite day of the year was still the first day of school. “I looked up to the teachers, coaches, and administrators at school. I knew it was the environment that I wanted to be in,” he said. It seemed destined that he become an educator.
President Bible was a first-generation college graduate, and his parents were supportive of their children getting a higher education. But his father, who worked as the head maintenance man at the school district and his mother, who worked in Indian education, “wanted their kids to be doctors and lawyers,” he said. As he explored career opportunities, he decided to give dentistry a try, but knew after a few courses that it was not for him. He changed his major and did not tell his parents. When they found out and expressed their displeasure, he left college.
After taking a job working at an engineering firm on the business side of the operation and after the birth of his first son, President Bible said he was ready to revisit his dream of being an educator. Even then, after he decided to return to college as a student, he was coaching and leading—his siblings! “I tried to talk them into going back to college with me. My brother said, ‘I will be 40 when I graduate!’ I told him ‘You still will be 40, with or without a college degree.’”
“My background is similar to that of tribal college and university students,” President Bible said, in that he was a Native man, he was a first-generation college student, and he also stopped out of college for a while after he realized his course of study was not a good fit for him. This background prepared him for his work as a tribal college president and working with Native students.
After returning to school and focusing his studies on his first love—education, President Bible entered the teaching field. Two years later, a colleague encouraged him to get his master’s degree. After five years of teaching, he moved into education leadership. He said his teaching career included teaching in diverse districts, from rural districts to wealthy districts, and working in administration.
“Students are students. Everyone needs resources to be successful. As administrators we cannot let money be the determining factor for success. I brought that philosophy to the College of Muscogee Nation,” he said.
When looking at the cultural design of the building at CMN, President Bible believed that students deserved the best. His own experiences in education inspired his desire to create a sense of place for students on campus. Growing up in Oklahoma City and attending a mainstream high school, he said he was not raised in his culture or speaking his language. Yet as a Native American raised in mainstream culture, he still didn’t feel like he fit in. It took him awhile to find where he felt like he belonged both as a student and as an educator, so when he became President of CMN, he said, “We want to make everyone feel like this is their home.”
After assuming his role at CMN, President Bible realized the importance of culture in students’ lives. “I learned so much about the culture from the students and the faculty here,” he said. “Our students are in the majority here for the first time, and for the first time they feel at home.”
He confessed what keeps him awake at night is wanting students to feel at home at college, to feel successful, to do well, and to be successful and proud of who they are. To that end, President Bible also wanted students to feel at home on a college campus and to help them envision college as a possibility. He had CMN reach out to the entire community and host elementary, middle, and high school Challenge Bowls on the CMN campus. “We want to get kids on this campus, see what’s going on, and get them thinking about college,” he said.
“In the ninth and tenth grades, we start losing students. Yet we know they are talented! This is why we participate in programs like the high school program sponsored by the College Fund and AT&T: to get students on campus,” he said.
CMN received accreditation in 2016 after a ten-year long process that President Bible led after coming on board as the college’s third president (and the ninth employee hired).
“Dr. King started the college with a $20,000 grant,” President Bible said, “and I came in that first year on its Board of Regents. The majority of employees are Muscogee, and you can attend college at no cost if you are Muscogee-Creek. This was a financial commitment that the tribe made.”
In addition to providing no-cost tuition to tribal members, President Bible, who grew up eating commodities, also wanted to provide students with an on-campus cafeteria to serve nutritious meals. Tribal members receive 20 meals a week at no cost. When other students asked about being able to eat in the cafeteria, President Bible advocated for them at tribal council. Thanks to his efforts, commuter students also receive 20 meals at no cost per semester.
Today the CMN campus comprises nearly 40 acres and is worth $22 million and is debt-free. “Now that we are accredited, students see our college as building a strong academic foundation for them. There are also so many opportunities for research, student internships, and more. This is a classic TCU in that at every position in the college we have grown our own,” President Bible said.
In addition to relying upon the expertise of those on his own campus and in his community, President Bible relied on the wisdom of the other TCU presidents for advice and counsel. “I can call other presidents for advice and learn about processes such as accreditation, giving people ownership, and the sense that we are working towards the same goal.”
Despite his many achievements, President Bible remained humble. “Once a coach, always a coach,” he said. You cannot win games by yourself…I have succeeded because I am surrounded with dedicated, loyal people. To lead we walk beside each other…leadership is not about one person, it is about team effort.”
The College Fund asks our supporters and communities to please keep President Bible’s wife; Dr. James King, his mentor and friend; and the entire College of Muscogee Nation family in your prayers.
About the American Indian College Fund—The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 31 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $9.25 million in scholarships to American Indian students in 2019-20, with scholarships, program, and community support totaling over $237 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.