E-mails reveal struggle over ‘Next Dance’

The registered student organization Students for Chief Illiniwek said the University administration “plotted” against its plans to hold “The Next Dance,” an event featuring the former Illini mascot, last fall after obtaining e-mail exchanges between top University officials.

Through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the group obtained more than 50 e-mails between former Chancellor Richard Herman, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano, Director of Intercultural Relations Anna Gonzalez and other University officials concerning the event, which was held in Assembly Hall on Oct. 2.

Roberto Martell, spokesman for Students for Chief Illiniwek, said the group requested the documents so they could find out who was causing difficulty during the planning of the event.

The group said the documents showed Herman and Romano exchanged a number of e-mails attempting to come up with a reason to push the event to a date other than Homecoming weekend or a date with a home football game.

“I’m just trying to think of a reason to deny them access to the hall on Oct. 2.,” Romano said in a Sept. 7 e-mail to Herman. “At this point they (Students for Chief Illiniwek) know there’s nothing scheduled.”

The documents show that the administration considered banning student organizations from using Assembly Hall although it is funded through student fees.

“I really appreciate the fact that we’ve been trying to get in the way of allowing students for the chief to perform a dance in the Assembly Hall,” Romano said to Herman in a Sept. 6 e-mail. “I think we’ve done a good job at pushing the program to a time slot that will not be as visible or as popular for people to attend.”

Romano said the University was trying to find a time for the event that balanced the needs of the organization and the needs of the University; she added that the public may be confused seeing the Chief dance in Assembly Hall. The Chief was retired in 2007.

University Spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the administration has to be “frank in conversation” about these types of issues.

“The whole responsibility of the University administrators is to balance the needs of the University and of student organizations,” Kaler said.

Romano later e-mailed Herman telling him the University would have to settle on Assembly Hall as the venue.

“There is also the concern that Students for the Chief will simply start looking for another venue such as a playing field or the ARC,” Romano said in a Sept. 6 e-mail to Herman. “Finally, we’d most likely be stuck with this particular performance. From my experience, it doesn’t work to develop a policy after the fact.”

Former student trustee and former president of Students for Chief Illiniwek, Paul Schmitt, said after reading the e-mails he was not surprised to see the effort the University administration put into stopping the event.

“Even though we knew this stuff was going on we never had any proof, so we could never act on it,” Schmitt said. “The University always had an excuse. Like Renee Romano said, they had the excuse of Homecoming, but didn’t have one for the other weekend.”

Romano explained that the reason for not having it on Homecoming weekend was that the area would become too congested.

“It caused a lot of problems because being so close to the game, there were a lot of problems getting people into the game, and it taxed the police and emergency staff.”

Because “The Next Dance” was not held on Homecoming weekend, Martell said, attendance numbers were much lower than the previous year, resulting in a financial loss.

In 2008, the event drew 10,000 people, while in 2009 1,500 people attended.