Moving past the Chief: What the University has (or has not) done

Over the past few years, “The Next Dance” and its surrounding controversy have become somewhat of its own tradition. Nearly 10,000 people gathered at the Assembly Hall to see the first incarnation of the event in 2008, which was put on by the Students for Chief Illiniwek registered student organization and included presentations as well as a portrayal of the Chief. Only 1,500 showed up in 2009, with group members citing administrative pressure to move the event away from homecoming weekend as the primary reason for the lagging attendance. Both events were met with protests, and this year looks to be no different.

But now the University may take legal action against another Chief group, the Honor the Chief Society, for its attempts to trademark and utilize the Chief Illiniwek name. The school has asked that the society remove references to the Chief on its website as well as from merchandise bearing the trademark.

The co-founder of the group, Roger Huddleston of Mahomet, contests that the trademark application is narrow, that “The Next Dance” will still go on and that the group is not bent on defying the University.

Really?

However you feel about the Chief, it’s clear that defying the University is part of the essence of events like “The Next Dance.” Whether pro-Chief groups are distributing T-shirts at basketball games, renting out the Assembly Hall or using the trademark, they’re defying the University. Huddleston acknowledged that the University could outspend his group in a lawsuit. But it shouldn’t have to come to that.

The University has enough of a financial mess to deal with without having to spend more on legal fees to protect a trademark it is clearly still entitled to. This group is placing the symbol they love over the university it was supposed to represent.

But the onus is on the University as well. If the administration wants to avoid these kinds of dust-ups, they should be more vocal about their efforts to move beyond the Chief. During the spring, both the faculty and student senates passed resolutions calling for the creation of a committee to explore new mascot possibilities. It’s unclear to us if any progress has been made in that area. In fact, when we asked Chancellor Robert Easter about it in August, he seemed to have more questions than answers.

We know selecting a new symbol is complex, and that these resolutions take time in order to be enacted properly. But if the University takes its Chief trademark seriously enough to threaten legal action over it, finding a new symbol is serious enough to warrant more of a dialogue, and serious enough to be acted on in a more timely manner.