C-U community deals with Chief Illiniwek’s departure

Jenette Sturges

Jenette Sturges

By Brian Klein

Twice Charles Craft’s “YO CHIEF” license plate has been vandalized. Once it was stolen and Craft replaced it. Another time it was bent to face the ground and had to be repaired.

Now that the University’s Board of Trustees effectively retired Chief Illiniwek and his halftime performance, Craft, 70, has resolved to build a “bigger, better” sign to sit on his front yard knoll, facing the intersection of Florida Avenue and Race Street alongside his license plate.

Craft, a former student and employee of the University, will build the sign to show his displeasure with the decision of the board to retire the Chief.

“The majority lost in this issue,” said Craft, who worked as a business manager of continuing education for the University. It is Craft’s view that the board’s decision goes against greater public opinion of the community.

Craft and his wife Jean, 70, who once supervised the accounting department of the University’s housing division, have been a part of the community for over 40 years.

“We love the Chief,” Jean said. “We think it’s such an honorable sign of the University. We don’t think it’s an atrocity to anyone.”

The board, in his opinion, wilted in the face of minority opposition. The bureaucracy of the University made a decision that goes against popular opinion, he said. Craft thinks the people of the community should have had more of a say in deciding the Chief’s fate.

“Political correctness reaches a point where it boomerangs back,” Craft said. “They’re so afraid of offending. I can’t see how people say he communicates a negative threat.”

Craft said he cannot think of anyone he knows that is pleased with the board’s decision. That perception seems to be the same on the other side of the fence.

Arlynn Gottlieb, 58, of Urbana, supports the decision to retire the Chief. She said she has not come across anyone who believes keeping the Chief is best. Gottlieb said she believes half the community is in favor of the Chief’s retirement and half opposed.

Gottlieb, who enrolled at the University as an undergraduate in 1965, said she has always liked the tradition of the Chief but ultimately believes it must be retired.

As for the long-preceding drama to Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Eppley’s announcement on Friday, Gottlieb said the board could have settled the matter in a more diplomatic fashion.

“I think the board should have acted sooner to make the ethical decision,” she said. “They should not have let it drag on as long as it did.”

As an undergrad, she said she enjoyed the halftime performances. But, she concedes at that time she “was not aware of the cultural implications.” She later changed her opinion on the matter.

“I think some people mean (the tradition of the Chief) as a sign of respect, but it doesn’t work out that way,” Gottlieb said. “I feel sad on an emotional level, but on an intellectual and compassionate level, I am behind retiring the Chief.”