One Dance Left

 

 

By Daily Illini Staff Report

The Chief Illiniwek half-time performance, an 80-year-old mainstay during football and basketball games at the University and source of intense controversy in recent years, was put to an end by a two-page press release Friday morning.

According to the press release issued by the University, the end of the half-time performance will lead to the immediate removal of the University from the NCAA’s list of schools with “hostile and abusive” mascots, nicknames and imagery. The letter also stated that the University will be permitted to resume “hosting or participating in NCAA championship events,” as soon as the Chief makes its final appearance Wednesday.

“This step is in the best interest of the University and is consistent with the Board’s previously stated goal of concluding this year its consensus process regarding Chief Illiniwek,” said University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence Eppley in the press release.

While the decision was a surprise for many alumni and members of the campus community, it appears the Board of Trustees, or at least Eppley, had notified the National Collegiate Athletics Association of the intent to end the performances in advance.

“It is our understanding that the use by the university of ‘Chief Illiniwek’ and the related Native American imagery in connection with university athletics will cease at approximately the time of this season’s final home men’s basketball game, February 21, 2007,” stated Bernard Franklin, a senior official of the NCAA, in a letter addressed to Eppley. The board’s office of the secretary received the letter via fax Feb. 15 at 3:55 p.m., one day before the official announcement.

Eppley explained during an interview that a big factor for the University’s decision was the impact the sanctions had on the University’s athletic program this year, mainly to spring sports teams like Men’s Tennis.

“We spent an enormous amount of time . trying to find a way to comply with the NCAA rules short of halting the half-time performance. So far, we’re unable to come up with that,” Eppley said. “We’ve only got two more men’s basketball games, and we wanted to give the fans a good, proper, prior notice. So that’s why we’re doing it today.”

Trustee David Dorris told the State Journal-Register the decision was forced on the board.

“We didn’t want this,” Dorris said. “It’s pretty obvious (we opposed it). We appealed twice, and told (the NCAA) we did not agree, and those appeals were denied.”

The community reacts

The decision was met with conflicting reactions from the campus community. Jacob Lee, junior in Engineering, said he was “happy (administrators) finally found spine to make some sort of decision” because the chief dance misrepresents Native American people.

“White people from a long time ago tried to approximate what they thought Native American culture was,” he said. “I’m proud of the University of Illinois, and I don’t want to have my University associated with this sort of stereotyping.”

In contrast, Jessica Bersani, sophomore in LAS, recognizes the attachment many students feel for the Chief.

“It’s sad for the University because I know people take a lot of pride in the Chief and what he stands for,” she said.

Allyn Ricci, junior in Education and member of Students for Chief Illiniwek, a registered student organization, realizes the finality of this decision.

“There’s not really much we can do,” Ricci said. “Since they have made a decision, it’s kind of out of our hands.”

Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu, senior in LAS and member of Students Transforming Oppression & Privilege, a student group that organized the Feb. 1 race forum, said she was not as excited as some were by the announcement because the press release was not specific about the fate of the Chief beyond the half-time performances.

“They leave options open for continued use that need to be addressed,” she said, noting that the press release did not address what will happen to the Chief’s regalia.

Ryan Ruzic, senior in LAS and president of the Illinois Student Senate, said he is relieved the board finally made a decision, allowing the campus to move on to other issues. He also said the board’s choice to make the decision so quickly with little warning led to a greater uproar.

“I would have liked some lead up to this even though it would’ve been a lot more difficult for the board,” Ruzic said. “It’s disappointing that they decided to make the decision quickly with no real dialogue.”

Process in question

The Daily Illini received reports from sources close to the University administration and the board that the trustees were to make a decision on the Chief at a Feb. 15 meeting. Dorris and University of Illinois at Springfield student trustee Sarah Doyle told the State Journal-Register the meeting was canceled because of new Open Meetings Act regulations that went into effect this year. Dorris and Doyle did not receive an agenda for the meeting, and said they did not know of a resolution about the Chief.

Dorris told the State Journal-Register he believes Eppley decided to make the announcement Friday with the belief the board had reached a consensus.

“I think it’s unfortunate it’s come to this because I’ve never seen the wisdom of the NCAA proclamation,” Dorris said. “I think Larry maybe believed there was some significant agreement by board members about what he was going to do. I’m sure he believed he had significant support.”

According to the University Board of Trustees bylaws, the chairperson can call an “unplanned executive session” in case the board must discuss and decide on “any business which is urgent and cannot be postponed to a regular meeting of the board.” The executive committee, which comprises the chair and two members of the board, can meet “by conference telephone call” or any other means that would allow the members to communicate with each other simultaneously. Eppley, Kenneth Schmidt and Niranjan Shah are the current members of the executive committee.

Bylaws state that the executive committee has the power to make binding decisions if it does not act on matters settled during a session in a regular board meeting. The executive committee is also prohibited from discussing or deciding on matters the board has deferred to “regular or special committees.” The executive committee must keep a written record of its meetings, which must be submitted to the rest of the board at the next regular meeting.

Drake Baer, Andrea Cheng, Kathleen Foody, Amanda Graf, Leigh Krahenbuhl, Joe Lamberson, Se Young Lee, Courtney Linehan, Andrew Mason, Kristin Maiorano, Lauren Mangurten, Sky Opila, Matthew Richardson, Emily Sokolik, Matt Spartz, Vasanth Sridharan and Patrick Wade contributed to this report.