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UPDATED: Amid public outrage, Kelley to consider UND/North Dakota as voting option

The era of playing as UND/North Dakota may not be over.

Days after UND's nickname committee voted 7-4 to remove it, President Robert Kelley announced Friday morning he would consider putting the option of playing as UND/North Dakota back on a list of names that will be voted on by the public in the fall.

Since March, the nickname committee has worked to gather and narrow down a list of more than 1,000 individual nickname submissions. On Tuesday, the group voted to move Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, Sundogs, North Stars and Roughriders forward for Kelley's approval.

The elimination of popular choice spurred outrage on social media, including talk of protests and false claims Kelley had threatened to disband the committee if they approved UND/North Dakota. The school has been playing under that name since the Fighting Sioux monicker was controversially retired in late 2012 after the NCAA threatened sanctions.

More UND nickname coverage: Protesters: We want North Dakota

Committee chairman Karl Goehring voted to keep UND/North Dakota as an option but said it had always been clear to him Kelley would ultimately have discretion.

"For me, we've kind of seen that all along throughout this entire process, and you know that's what the (North Dakota) University System hires him for, and it kind of is what it is," he said. "It was never clearly indicated how the vote would go or how the names would be used from the start, so we knew there was some leeway."

Kelley, who will retire in January, was not on campus for the day and unavailable for an interview but said in his memo he wants to consider the "feedback of various stakeholders in the process." He noted he felt the school would always be "North Dakota and could benefit from having a nickname to stand behind with cheers, songs and chants."

Committee member Landon Bahl agreed. He voted to remove the option and said he's gotten a lot of emails and feedback about it.

"It made me think about it, but I still stand by the decision that myself and six others made on the committee to take it off," Bahl said. "That is the best route. We've been stuck in this rut for several years without having an identity. We are and always will be North Dakota, but the thing with that is also everyone else is North Dakota. That's not an identity that's just for UND."

Vice President for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton said Kelley will make a concrete decision by the time the vote happens this fall.

Read more about the committee's decision to eliminate the no-nickname option


While many feel passionately about the school's old logo, emotions ran almost as high after the removal of UND/North Dakota was announced.

As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, a petition to reinstate UND/North Dakota as an option had 5,899 signatures. The Herald received about 15 letters to the editor opposing the nickname committee's decision and none in support of it.

A protest in favor of reconsidering UND/North Dakota Friday evening drew about 30 people who held signs expressing their discontent with the committee's decision.

Organizer Krista Easterday said she organized the event because she claimed the nickname committee had not listened to public opinion. When the committee took suggestions for the nickname throughout the month of April, "North Dakota" was submitted most frequently, with 1,005 submissions of the 4,950 total that included duplicates. Variations of "UND" were submitted 440 times.

During Tuesday's meeting, committee member Jazmyn Friesz vehemently supported letting the public vote on UND/North Dakota and said via text message she didn't think the committee correctly represented what the public wanted.

"I am glad (Kelley) has been keeping the community updated since the conclusion of the committee and hope that whatever the outcome the stakeholders of UND have truly been heard," she said. "With that being said, I don't think those in favor of removing UND speak out quite as loudly as those who are opposed to it , so I hope they share their opinions with committee members or the president as well."

Committee member Chelsea Moser voted to eliminate UND/North Dakota and said at Tuesday's meeting she worried it would be unfair if UND/North Dakota was voted on against more than one other new nickname option as it could unevenly split opinions; half of the voters could vote for no nickname but the other half would be split into much smaller percentages among the other nickname options.

More backlash

Backlash continued through social media even after Kelley announced he would consider letting the public vote on essentially not having a nickname, with some saying his intentions weren't genuine.

"If you read the full statement, he says he will simply 'consider' putting it back into consideration while also emphasising how much he dislikes the idea of North Dakota," Zachary Rakenrud wrote on Facebook. "This is just his way of temporarily appeasing the angry crowd."

Committee member Lowell Schweigert said during several meetings he thought it was time for the group to have courage and pick a traditional nickname but he still voted to keep it on the list because he wanted the university to look into logos and marketing campaigns they could compare against other options like Sundogs or Nodaks.

After hearing of Kelley's announcement on Friday morning, Schweigert said he wants students to have the experience he had as a Fighting Sioux at UND, and while that nickname is no longer an option, they deserve a new nickname to cheer for.

"I think it's time for all of us to be adults and to move on," he said.

Kelley's full email follows:


To the campus community:

Last Tuesday evening, July 21, the UND Nickname Committee concluded its work and submitted a final short list of names to be submitted for a public vote.  I appreciate the extraordinary effort of this committee, as well as that of the previous Process Recommendation Task Force that convened last fall.  The faculty, staff, students and alumni on these two committees have worked hard, deliberated thoughtfully, and communicated tirelessly with their constituents.   I could not have asked for a more dedicated group of individuals, and these two teams delivered an inclusive and thorough process that yielded several excellent potential nickname suggestions.  I support the work of both teams, and I appreciate and welcome the list of nicknames submitted.

In the days since the Committee concluded its work, much additional feedback has come forward, particularly about the exclusion of “North Dakota” from the final short list.  I want to state here that we are “North Dakota,” and we will always be “North Dakota.”  I believe it is in the best interest of the University to have a new nickname—something that will go along with continuing to be “North Dakota”—just as other major universities have nicknames.  I think students, alumni, and fans would benefit from having cheers, chants and songs that connect to a true nickname.  But that doesn’t and won’t detract from the fact we will always be “North Dakota.”

That said, I also want to consider the additional feedback of various stakeholders in this process.   Many different opinions have been expressed, and they have come from many sources.   Over the next few weeks I plan to further review all the feedback received, and I will consider the possible addition of  “North Dakota” in the voting process.  The voting process, which has not yet been defined, will not take place until fall, and this will allow adequate time to thoroughly review the feedback and make a final decision. 

Again, I thank the Nickname Committee and the Process Recommendation Task Force members for all their work.  Without their efforts, we would not today be at this significant point in determining the way forward in defining a future nickname for the University of North Dakota. 

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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.