Time for closure on the issue of the Chief

In a statement released one year ago today outlining his goals for 2007, Board of Trustees Chairman Lawrence Eppley said, “It is also time to finish the work of our consensus process and bring to a conclusion the matter of Chief Illiniwek, so that the University can be removed from the list of NCAA policy violators, move our institution forward and allow our student athletes to compete at the highest levels and free of sanctions.”

But one year later, that goal remains only partially complete.

While the board did rightfully retire Chief Illiniwek, an eighty-year mainstay of the University, it did so in an abrupt and entirely dishonorable manner. Though the reaction from Chief supporters across the country was angry, bitter and swift, there was some hope that this University could eventually move on, even if doing so would take years.

To that end, the administration directed Chief merchandise to be phased out by the end of 2007. But now with news that the University is in negotiations to license the Chief logo to a company that specializes in selling vintage college merchandise, the commitment that the administration made to bring the matter to a consensus is in doubt.

Continuing to make a profit off a retired symbol after going to considerable effort to distance this school from that symbol speaks volumes about the priorities of the administration. As angry as those who opposed the Chief should be about this, those who are pro-Chief should be angry that what they call an honorable symbol is being treated so disingenuously.

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The bottom line is no matter how you feel about the Chief, the University is certainly not serving its members by allowing the matter to fester, whether it’s in the guise of an ill-advised Homecoming parade policy or a new business deal that profits off the very discontent that was created by mismanaging Illiniwek’s retirement in the first place.

If the administration is perceived to be incapable or unwilling to make up its mind on what should be a simple matter of letting the Chief rest in peace, its commitment to improving the campus environment through efforts like Inclusive Illinois – if it ever had a chance of succeeding in the first place – and its competence is placed in severe doubt.

What students, faculty and alumni need, whether pro-Chief or anti-Chief, is to be able to move on in their own way. But if history and the actions of this institution’s leaders in the year following arguably its biggest controversy is any indicator, that doesn’t look to happen anytime soon.

Until then, the issue of Chief Illiniwek is without consensus or closure.