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Faculty members ask Kupchella to drop nickname

UND President to convene group to discuss issue; faculty ambassadors resign over new logo

After being asked by faculty members to "gracefully retire" UND's Fighting Sioux nickname, President Charles Kupchella said Thursday the University Council would discuss the nickname and Indian-head logo at a meeting in January.

Religious studies Associate Professor Scott Lowe asked Kupchella to convene the council in order to retire the nickname and logo at a meeting of the University Senate, UND's working faculty governance group. The University Council consists of all faculty members and meets only once or twice a year. It is the ultimate faculty governance group.

Lowe read from a written request signed by Lowe and educational leadership Professor Jerry Bass. Lowe said the request represented the concerns of a number of faculty members.

The request asked Kupchella to call for the council meeting "with the clear objective of developing a process by which UND can respectfully and gracefully retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian-head logo, replacing them with a logo and nickname that will bring honor and pride to all North Dakotans."

Kupchella quickly agreed to call such a meeting. But after political science Professor Stephen Markovich suggested that more discussion, and probably more than one meeting of the council, was needed to decide the issue, Kupchella and Lowe agreed that the council meeting's agenda would be to discuss the nickname issue and not to decide to drop the nickname.

Ambassadors resign

Meanwhile, the three founding members of Faculty Ambassadors, a UND group that consists of volunteer faculty members who work to improve student recruitment and retention, resigned from that group this week because of the new Indian-head logo unveiled by the university on Nov. 29.

"The manner in which the logo was introduced was disrespectful to all those faculty and students who give of their time for recruitment and retention efforts," said Tom Petros, a UND psychology professor.

"I felt like I couldn't keep recruiting students to a school while this was going on. It seemed a bit hypocritical," said Petros, a founding member.

The other two who resigned were Jan Zahrly, associate professor of management, and Jim Mochoruk, associate professor of history.

UND English Professor James McKenzie said he had also resigned from the group, but Petros said he didn't know how many other volunteer ambassadors were also resigning.

The request and resignations illustrate the dissatisfaction many UND faculty members feel over the manner in which the new logo was unveiled and the continuing nickname controversy.

"By no means was this something we thought up," Lowe said. "There's an enormous amount of concern. The depth of feeling is stronger than I've seen. The way the logo came out obviously ticked a nerve."

Faculty members have expressed displeasure over the nickname in the past. In 1993, the University Senate voted to drop the nickname in a 34-10 vote. But the move was largely symbolic, since only UND's president can decide to remove the nickname.

The nickname debate reopened last week with UND's unveiling of a new Indian-head logo, designed by Native American artist Bennett Brien, which immediately met with heavy criticism from some students, faculty and staff. The school hasn't decided how or if the logo will be used.

'Honeymoon' over

Lowe's request also gave UND's new president a chance to explain for the first time to faculty members his decision to introduce the new logo.

Kupchella spoke of his "honeymoon" at UND being over, and he called the logo and nickname controversy the first test of his leadership.

Alluding to the strong feelings of alumni who support the nickname and Native American students, faculty and staff members opposed to its continued use, Kupchella said that as a brand new president he was between a rock and a hard place. He said that he felt he had to choose between two deaths, one by alumni and one by those opposed to the nickname.

He also noted that UND has used its nickname for 63 years, and that the nickname debate has a 28-year history at UND.

"In retrospect, I ripped the Band-Aid off" the nickname debate, he said.

Kupchella said he believes UND has tried to use the nickname with honor, and that by and large he believes UND has lived up to that intention. He also said the continuing debate at UND isn't a logo issue, it is a nickname issue.

He asked rhetorically if any organization has the right to use the name of a group if that group's members say they don't want it to be used in that way.

"That's where I get stuck, because the answer is 'no,'" Kupchella said.

At the same time, Kupchella said he has received calls from people hurt and bewildered that Native Americans are offended by UND's use of the Fighting Sioux nickname. For years, Kupchella noted, alumni have grown up with the nickname. Its removal, he said, ultimately would be like a death.

"Could I withstand taking action that would rip it away from people who have had it for 63 years?" Kupchella asked. "As I stand here, I don't have any idea what the implications of that action would be"

He said the logo debate showed that UND's campus community "needs some work." The events last week "revealed we don't have one."

UND, Kupchella said, needs to develop a leadership strategy to deal with the nickname debate. He said the university needed to determine what negative outcomes would arise from removing the nickname.

In the end, Kupchella said, keeping or dropping the nickname remained the president's decision. He said the nickname was "potentially a very fractious kind of thing we're dealing with" and that he would need the support of everybody.

"Believe it or not, it didn't seem like a big deal" to add an additional American Indian logo, Kupchella said of his decision last week.

Noting that he missed the first 27 1/2 years of the nickname debate at UND, Kupchella again asked for time and patience, saying, "I just got here; I haven't been in on the first part of the discussion."

Widespread concerns

Lowe described Kupchella's remarks as honest and sincere, and said the president had responded well to widespread concerns from faculty members about the nickname issue.

Many of those concerns center on how the passionate nickname debate is affecting students on both sides of the debate.

In his request to Kupchella, Lowe said, "What is most striking about recent events is the anger being directed against Native American students, who -- regardless of their stand on the nickname or logo -- have been targeted as 'the enemy' by other members of our university community."

Lowe said some students have received anonymous death threats, and that the controversy was disrupting the lives of students and creating a hostile environment.

Given that, Kupchella's remarks were reason to "hold out hope that there will be a resolution to this issue in our lifetimes," Lowe said.

The University Senate meeting also was attended by a number of students and staff members who rallied against UND's new logo last week.

Like Lowe, Ira Taken Alive, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, said Kupchella's remarks were encouraging. A formal discussion of the issue would be a change from the policies of recent UND administrations, he said.

Source: Grand Forks Herald , December 3, 1999