UND nickname committee faces time crunch
Fifty-four days. That's less than two months or eight weeks from Tuesday to May 1.
Whatever the timeframe, UND's new 11-person nickname committee faces a time crunch from when it meets for the first time and submitting a "short list" of name possibilities in early May for the public to vote on.
But some committee members aren't worried and Karl Goehring, the group's chairman, said he sees the deadline as more of a guideline.
"It's always good to at least have a timeline in place to work toward," he said. "I know the last group was like this and I hope it will be the same going forward; the focus will be on doing it right. If more time is needed, certainly we would ask for it."
Goehring also served on a recently disbanded task force that was appointed by UND President Robert Kelley to develop the process the school would use to pick a new nickname. It's former nickname and logo, the Fighting Sioux, was controversially retired in late 2012 after the NCAA threatened sanctions.
The new committee will be working with branding expert Kelly O'Keefe, who also worked with the last task force. He said even though the timeline is aggressive, he isn't worried.
"It can be done," he said. "Often in rebanding we have to work on those kind of time frames."
O'Keefe will work with the committee as they vet and narrow down a list of names for the public to vote on. The plan is to design a logo after the nickname is chosen.
"It's going to keep us on our best behavior to make sure we move quickly."
From the time last summer when UND announced they were going to look at the possibility of picking a permanent nickname, officials were careful to emphasize the task force they planned to appoint was merely developing the process that would be used to pick a permanent nickname, not actually picking the nickname.
At the group's first meeting in September, some task force members considered Kelley's mission ambiguous.
"I'm not necessarily asking you to find the name, I'm asking you to identify the best pathway to get to that name," Kelley said to the task force. "If we come up with a name at the end of that process, all the better, that certainly is our eventual goal, but just for right now, we're looking at the process."
But by December, Kelley was more clear and said going back to playing under the Fighting Sioux flag wasn't a possibility because of NCAA rules. He told the Herald he had been looking at how to address the issue as far back as the end of the special legislative session in November 2011 that repealed a law requiring the use of the Fighting Sioux name.
"We were put in a holding pattern, and as time moved along we got to a point where we could move out of that holding pattern, and that's where we are now," Kelley said in a December interview.
After gathering input from more than 7,600 people through a survey and town hall meetings, the task force ultimately recommended a plan with the caveat of keeping "UND/North Dakota" as an option for a permanent name, which the school has been playing as anyway since the Fighting Sioux's retirement.
The new committee, which will meet for the first time Tuesday, is the result of that plan.
But the task force did have to extend its original December 2014 deadline by a month, and university officials Susan Walton and Peter Johnson said the details of how this new committee will operate, gather information and ultimately narrow down possible nicknames will be decided once the group meets.
"We know it will be a public process and we will announce more details about that soon ... but it will be important for the committee to meet first and see how they'd like that process to work," Walton, the university's vice president for university and public affairs, said.
Excited to work
UND's nickname controversy has raged for decades. In the 1930s the school transitioned from the Flickertails to the Sioux and later the Fighting Sioux. By the 1960s, there were complaints about the American Indian images and cartoons being used, according to Herald archives.
In the coming years, some tribe members avidly supported the use of the name while others called it disrespectful.
Merchandise bearing the Fighting Sioux logo is still prevalent in the community and some still cling to the old name at sporting events. It's most notable at hockey games, where most of the crowd finishes off the National Anthem with the thundering cry of "Sioux."
New committee member current and president of the United Tribes Technical College Leander "Russ" McDonald is a UND alumnus, former researcher and former chairman of the Spirit Lake. He said Kelley personally asked if he would serve on the task force and he's not concerned about the proposed timeline.
"It's a small group so a smaller group will allow for more work to get done and if you're group is too large you tend to spend too much time on discussion," McDonald said.
McDonald was at UND during years of heightened controversy over the name as a student and then employee from 1997 to 2008. He said he was opposed to the Fighting Sioux name while at the school.
"I was actually going to school at UND when support for (the nickname) was provided by Spirit Lake and my perspective is that it has always been a civil rights issue," McDonald said. "If there is something there that interferes with your education, you're violating the civil rights of those individuals with whatever that issues is and in this case it happened to be the Fighting Sioux name."
Dave St. Peter, president of the Minnesota, was appointed to the group through the UND Alumni Association and Foundation. St. Peter said he knows the group won't be able to make everyone happy but that he's honored to serve.
"I haven't been involved in the process up to this point but I followed it like everybody else," he said. "I approach it very open minded. I think we want what's best for the University of North Dakota."