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UND nickname emails show backlash, support from Kelley's decision

UND President Robert Kelley. File Photo.

A week after finding out keeping UND or North Dakota as a nickname wasn't on the table any more, Bruce Hoiberg of Sioux Falls, S.D., sent an email to President Robert Kelley telling him exactly what he thought.

"Go live in Texas or something and leave us the hell alone," he wrote.

Hoiberg's curt message was one of many emails sent between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 obtained by the Herald through an open records request.

In his, Hoiberg said he had lived in Grand Forks for more than 25 years and didn't think Kelley, who is retiring in January, deserved a say in the nickname issue.

"I have been disgusted with the deceitful tactics you and your administration have taken," he said. "It's a disgrace to ND and its university."

Others joined in the chorus with Hoiberg in the days following Kelley's Aug. 28 announcement that playing as UND/North Dakota instead of picking a new nickname would not be an option in an upcoming public vote.

In mid-October, stakeholders will select new nickname for the school after the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo were retired in late 2012 under the threat of the NCAA sanctions.

Alexander Erickson said in an Aug. 31 email Kelley had shown that his assumption that people with doctorate degrees have brains was wrong.

UND student Jacob Andersen wrote he didn't see the benefit of picking a new name, and UND student Nathan Adams wrote to Kelley about a student poll showing they were largely in favor of having UND/North Dakota on the ballot.

"You've ignored the input of those with the most direct ties to UND; ties that will endure long after you've left," Adams said. "I can't make you change this decision, but I wanted to let you know how severely disappointed I am that you've handled this journey as a dictator instead of a president."

Kevin Riley, who is associated with the group The Sioux Were Silenced, also sent every State Board of Higher Education member an email accusing Kelley of controlling the nickname committee that vetted and narrowed down the original list of more than 1,000 ideas submitted by the public.

"Kelley has quit and is still driving this process, presumably, so the next president won't have to deal with it," Riley wrote. "Believe me, the next president will be dealing with it anyway."

Frustrated

In his email to Kelley, Jim Bach wrote of his disappointment.

"I have to say that the UND process is so far removed from the principles that make this such a great country that it embarrasses me to think that such a process could be supported by the highest ranking leader of one of the most respected educational institutions not only in North Dakota but in the U.S.," Bach wrote.

Alumnus and UND All American Athlete Wayne Engebretson was brief, noting he supported North Dakota as the school's nickname option.

But Remington Dockter went so far as to say he wouldn't donate to the school.

UND Alumni Association and Foundation CEO DeAnna Carlson Zink said the office has received a lot of feedback lately on both sides of the issue, though they haven't had to devote any extra staff to handle the calls.

"We have had a few individuals express some frustration over the process and threaten to withdraw donations but it hasn't been significant at all," she said.

Zink didn't provide an exact number of donors who had withdrawn but said it was "a handful."

The emails also show one person sought to have their season ticket refunded due to the elimination of the UND/North Dakota option.

UND Athletics Department spokesman Jayson Hajdu and Ralph Engelstad Arena General Manager Jody Hodgson both told the Herald earlier this month their offices hadn't been fielding many calls on the issue.

Steve Sarbacker of the South Dakota-based Cutler Law Firm urged Kelley to put UND/North Dakota on the ballot and claimed two of the remaining choices have "proprietary rights issues." In an interview Wednesday with the Herald, Sarbacker clarified his comment by noting he had heard online chatter but hadn't done any research on the topic himself.

"I wanted him to know there were a lot of people unhappy UND was not a name to vote on, and secondly I've heard through different sources, whether they're accurate or not, there are issues with some of those names," he said.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said UND legal counsel is confident in the school's ability to move forward legally with the five potential nicknames slated for a public vote next month: Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Sundogs and Roughriders.

Sarbacker, a UND alumnus who said he loves his alma mater and its hockey team, also donates to the school and he hasn't decided whether or not the nickname issue will change that.

"I'm just frustrated like everyone else," he said.

Zink said the loss of any donation, no matter how small, isn't good, but historically the nickname issue hasn't put a damper on fundraising, pointing to the $324 million raised through the North Dakota Spirit Campaign from 2005 to 2013.

"What we've consistently seen, whether it's through people who are disappointed or in support of the process, is we have very passionate alumni," she said.

'The correct choice'

Kelley also received emails with encouraging feedback.

Associate Director Gretchen Schatz of the UND Office of Extended Learning told Kelley to keep up the good work, UND student Kyle Torvik said the UND president made a "courageous" decision and Associate Principal Scott Brekke of Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls said the move was the right choice for UND.

"This has been going on for just about my whole life," Brekke wrote. "I have been a big Sioux fan forever but this is the correct choice for the university.

"We need to move forward with a new name and I look forward to supporting the new name and the university."

In his email, Torvik wrote the Fighting Sioux nickname would be remembered but the school must move forward.

"The easy thing to do would have been to cave to the immense pressure and allow the North Dakota name on the ballot, though as you have said on many different occasions, this is not in the best interests of the University long term," the UND student said.

Operations Coordinator Dawn Drake at the ND STAR Simulation Center also voiced her approval through an email forwarded by Kelley's executive assistant, Patricia Bohnet.

"Too much time, energy and money has been spent arguing over what is truly, just two words and a picture," Drake wrote.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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