UND plans fall meeting to discuss nickname
GRAND FORKS — This fall, University of North Dakota officials will begin meeting with stakeholders to develop the process of picking a new nickname and logo.
“We want to emphasize that the work of this group will be to establish a process, not to select a new nickname or logo,” UND’s Vice President for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton said. “The university is not in a position to receive or evaluate suggestions for a new nickname or logo at this time.”
UND is allowed by state law to pick a new nickname after January 2015, but after several racially charged incidents on campus, President Robert Kelley has been pressured to take concrete steps and move away from the Fighting Sioux nickname. UND dropped Sioux as the nickname for its athletic teams in 2012.
“In the minds of many, many people it’s still an issue, it’s still problematic, and I understand that,” Kelley said in May. “I’m not blind to it and I get it. But it is retired officially, so now we’ve got the next step.”
This next step will mean consulting with stakeholders — students, children, residents, faculty, staff and alumni — and laying out the steps the university will take in picking a new nickname.
“We don’t have a process yet but what we’re doing is preparing to create a process,” UND spokesman Peter Johnson said.
Kelley is currently on leave to study tenure policies.
The NCAA dubbed UND’s longstanding Fighting Sioux nickname to be “hostile and abusive” in 2005. The state fought the decision and after a few tumultuous years of legislative and public debate, the logo was officially retired Dec. 31, 2012. The university has played as “North Dakota” ever since.
But the Sioux name has remained a prominent presence on campus, which led to about 100 American Indian students to protest what they saw as university inaction in May after a sorority hung a banner referencing the retired nickname and some UND students wore “Siouxper Drunk” T-shirts to an off-campus festival attended mostly by college students.
“I thought it was very clear we need to be having discussions about UND moving on,” North Dakota University System Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen said during a May meeting after the protest.
At the time, Kelley also said “finding a successful resolution will be a challenge.”
With such a supportive fan base for the Fighting Sioux name, many are timid about moving on.
“UND Fighting Sioux Hockey” has more than 17,000 likes on Facebook and merchants with stockpiles of Fighting Sioux merchandise continue to sell it.
Ralph Engelstad Arena General Manager Jody Hodgson said that as far as the Sioux Shop there is concerned, they haven’t thought ahead that far. “We will sell through our existing inventory while supplies last.”
Don Kojich, chief relations officer for the UND Alumni Association, said the association will take its lead from the university when it comes to the nickname change.
“One of the critical things is being able to communicate with the stakeholders,” he said.
UND Athletics Director Brian Faison said that no matter what happens, he didn’t see a nickname and logo change affecting game attendance.
“They come out to see the teams, to see the players,” he said.
Faison said it would probably take about a year after a formal decision is made to get the new logo on team uniforms, but that materials such as press packets and promotional videos would see an immediate change.
While timing and overall acceptance will play a part, Faison said the university and its athletic department could handle the change.
“Whatever it is, that’s who we are,” he said. ‘That’s what we’ll play under. The matter of acceptance will be a little personal on an individual basis, but overall, we’re a team and that’s what we’ll play under.”
A longer wait?
At the same time, state Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, is banking on the university moving very slowly because he plans to introduce a bill during the next legislative session that would extend the time in which UND has to wait before picking a new nickname by two and a half years.
The bill would most likely be introduced in January and could take three to four months to pass, but Louser said he wasn’t worried about UND picking a name before his legislation has a chance.
“It’s not something they’re going to able to put together in January and pick a name, I would think,” he said.
Louser also said the recent precedent set by the U.S. Court of Appeals that said trademarks can’t disparage religious or ethnic groups won’t affect the possibility of getting the Fighting Sioux name back.
“We’re talking about a court deciding about what hurts somebody’s feelings, so I think that’s going to be a very difficult thing to gauge,” he said.
In a May interview, Louser said the extension to July 2017 would allow for the possibility of another vote on the Fighting Sioux nickname by native tribes, but in a recent interview he added the extension could also serve the purpose of simply allowing UND more time to establish the process of picking a new nickname.