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Civil rights check at UND?

Treatment of Indian students at core of federal attorney's query

A U.S. Justice Department attorney has contacted UND employees to inquire about about possible civil rights violations at the university. The Department of Justice, however, has not opened an official investigation, said Casey Stavropoulos, a department spokeswoman. To open an investigation, the department would need a written complaint from a student or a referral from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Neither has occurred, Stavropoulos said.

UND President Charles Kupchella was not available to comment Wednesday, but another top administrator said he wasn't aware of the attorney's interest. "I don't recall anything like that brought to our attention," said Bob Boyd, UND vice president of student and outreach services.

Stavropoulos declined Wednesday to say whether Lawrence Baca, the attorney, had contacted UND faculty members. Attempts to reach Baca were unsuccessful, but two current UND faculty members and one former administrator said they talked earlier this year to Baca, who is a trial attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "My understanding is he (Baca) is considering an investigation," said Bill Bray, a former director of special projects with UND's social work department. He said Baca told him he was considering an investigation into whether UND maintains a hostile learning environment for Indian students.

Bray, who now lives in Oklahoma, said he knows of Indian students who left UND because of safety concerns after they complained about the university's Fighting Sioux nickname. "Students have dropped out, which denies them an equal education," Bray said. "There have been death threats."

The attorney called Bray, English professor Jim McKenzie and philosophy professor Scott Lowe for information about threats and other alleged abuses. All three are outspoken proponents of changing UND's Fighting Sioux nickname. Bray and Baca are both Indian. While McKenzie said he believes Baca talked to other UND employees, he said he didn't know whom else the attorney may have called at UND. "He seemed to think there may be some legal basis for a challenge of the Sioux name," Lowe said. "He seemed very informed."

Grand Forks Herald, November 16, 2000