Column: The Chief concern

By Brian Mellen

In its most recent ruling, the NCAA infringed on the University’s rights as an autonomous institution by restricting our usage of the Chief in NCAA sanctioned play.

Despite this news, the whole Chief debate is a tired issue that distracts the University from matters of real importance. Contrary to popular belief by advocates and opponents of the Chief Illiniwek, there are much more pressing issues concerning the University, and it’s crucial to point out why people lobbying either side of the argument are largely wasting their energy.

The NCAA calls the Chief a mascot, despite the University’s categorization of him as a symbol. He only performs at regular season games the University hosts and only at football, volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball. Yet even though his performances are limited in scope, for some reason the Chief Illiniwek issue is central to administrators, professors and college students’ personal beliefs.

What really should be the main focus for improving educational institutions is just that – academia and how to go about improving the way in which knowledge is passed on to students. Every time I walk into Lincoln Hall, I wonder whether I should wear a hard hat just in case the building finally caves in and falls apart. We don’t have enough University facilities to accommodate the same number of freshmen each year. Our classes are taught by TA’s who are only a few years older than us and can barely speak English. And still, the state of Illinois keeps cutting funding to the school.

These are the real problems facing the University, and I don’t see where the Chief fits into all of this. It’s unfortunate that arguments on hot button issues such as the Chief divert people’s attention away from more fundamental factors that are directly related to the success of our school.

What’s difficult to understand is why Chief advocates place such emphasis on sports. It seems that often academics come second in their eyes. If you don’t believe that there is an emphasis on sports over academics, then take a look at Illini basketball coach Bruce Weber’s paycheck compared to President B. Joseph White of the University. Weber makes significantly more money than White – the head honcho of education at the University.

Opponents of the Chief view him as a discriminatory and bigoted symbol that needs to go. Unfortunately, the problem is that simply removing the image of the Chief is only a very small step in showing respect toward the Native Americans who still exist in small corners of the United States. Poverty and seclusion plague the American Indian community in the U.S. If those who are anti-Chief honestly want to give back to American Indians, a dialogue on how to solve the problems they face today is a far more worthy cause than just getting rid of a school symbol. Ridding the University of the Chief because of white man’s guilt is about as good of solution to Native American’s current situation as affirmative action is to maintaining fairness and equality in colleges. Both sidestep the root of the problem and offer only temporary solutions that do little in the way of fixing challenges in the long term. Wasting this much time and effort on whether to keep the Chief is not worth it.

Too much time is being wasted on issues such as the Chief. Now that the NCAA has decided Illinois is no longer capable of taking care of the issue itself, more energy will be taken away from where the focus should be, which is on academics. The University will now become more entangled in the whole NCAA debacle, trying to figure out its next move.

It’d be nice if the whole Chief debate just went away. It’s detracting from the University’s focus. But people love to make huge deals over taboo issues that in the end aren’t nearly as important as they’d like you to believe.

Brian Mellen is junior in Communications. He’d like to thank those of you readers out there who actually read the DI on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]