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A difficult decision

UND has until Oct. 1 to get 30-year agreements from two namesake tribes or begin to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, according to a resolution passed Thursday by the State Board of Higher Education.

UND has until Oct. 1 to get 30-year agreements from two namesake tribes or begin to retire the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, according to a resolution passed Thursday by the State Board of Higher Education.

Although the resolution was unanimously approved, board member Grant Shaft said in a Friday interview that he doesn't want to see the symbol of UND athletics since the 1930s change. He discussed how the board came to its vote and also talked about his opinions on the controversial move that could affect his alma mater.

Q. You initially recommended an Aug. 1 deadline to begin retiring the nickname -- could you talk about how you came up with that recommendation, and what you think of the approved deadline of Oct. 1?

A. It appeared from the testimony that we had from tribal members that they were going to have two elections. One was going to be July 15 and one was going to be Sept. 15. It was my understanding from what I had heard from them that they were going to try to have the matter on the July 15 ballot. I believe it was (board member) Pam Kostelecky who said, 'Just in case they need until September, let's bump it to Oct. 1.' So, it wasn't an issue at all. I think we all had the same idea in mind. We wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to get what they needed on the ballot.

Q. What were some of the other options you looked at besides what was passed in Thursday's resolution?


A. What I would have liked to have seen is the board kind of digest the information, and we could revisit it in June. Had the conversation maybe gone that way, that might have been what I had recommended. I think there were probably some members who might have been interested in dealing with it more immediately. But these things are kind of fluid during meetings, and based on the testimony, this is the direction it went.

Q. How long was this resolution in the works?A. Well, I think the formal language for it just came up in the process of the meeting. I jotted down what I thought would be some language and had Pat Seaworth (attorney for the board) take a look at it right during the testimony.

Q. You went to Chicago a few weeks ago to visit with Summit League Commissioner Tom Douple. What prompted your visit there, and why was it necessary to visit with him before the meeting?

A. If you recall, there was an article in the Herald some months ago where they had interviewed Tom Douple ... where he had indicated there would have to be a resolution prior to acceptance of an application. So, that Herald article sparked some of the interest in this question as to where did the Summit League actually stand on this. I had called Tom a couple of weeks before and just had a very general conversation about that. Then, I indicated that this is something that the board is probably going to be interested in hearing, and then, I thought it might be helpful if we had an in-person meeting with some of the people involved in the issue. I had then contacted (North Dakota University System) Chancellor Goetz, letting him know my thoughts. And through that process, the arrangements were made for us to go meet with him that afternoon.

Q. How big of a role did that conversation play in this resolution?

A. There's essentially three components to what was going on Thursday. One big component was what is going on at the reservations and the progress out there. The other two were UND's desire to join the Summit League and the Summit League's position on timeliness of an application.

As to that third component, that visit was very important, at least in my eyes, because we were able to spend the afternoon with Mr. Douple at the Summit League offices. He walked us through the application process and the timing of how these are processed. It ultimately allowed us to ask him some pointed questions regarding UND's nickname and logo. At least from the Summit League standpoint, they need an application as soon as possible. And prior to them accepting and acting on that application, we would have to have the nickname issue resolved. Mr. Douple did go far enough to indicate that "resolved" meant that we had to have a letter from the NCAA indicating that we had resolved that portion of the settlement agreement. As I indicated Thursday, another important piece of that was to get some understanding as to how UND officials felt about the importance of getting into that league.

Q. Many students, faculty members and athletic supporters of UND consider the nickname to be a big part of the university's tradition and history. If the tribes don't give their approval, how difficult do you think the transition to a new nickname will be?


A. I guess I can't look into the crystal ball on that, but ... there will be some difficulties, and it's going to be difficult even for me personally. But I do know that other schools have been able to successfully transition out, and I have a lot of faith in the strength of the University of North Dakota, and so, I certainly think it will be a successful transition. Obviously, it's going to be a much easier transition if UND is ultimately admitted into the Summit League and they have the same kind of success that NDSU has had. That type of thing tends to help heal wounds quickly, and I'm hopeful for that.

I'm a Grand Forks native and went through the time when Grand Forks Central High School changed its name. That was a heart-wrenching process for the city. To this day, there's still some people who have a hard time with it. But time does heal, and Central has healed, and I assume the strength of UND is even greater.

Q. How involved will the state board be in the transition to a new nickname if that's what needs to happen?

A. I don't expect there will be any involvement at all unless we were asked. I think it's the view of the state board that once that is handed back to the campus and UND President Kelley that they will be involved with that entirely. The only continuing involvement that I could see is, under the settlement agreement and under our resolution, the building issues are still following the settlement timeline. I suspect there might be some involvement on the board in that respect. But that's spelled out pretty specifically in the settlement agreement.

Q. You've touched on this a little bit, but as a resident of Grand Forks and a former UND student, could you talk about your personal connection with the Fighting Sioux nickname?

A. Well, I would suspect that I, for lack of a better way of putting it, run as green as anybody. I'm a sixth-generation UND grad. I've had faculty in my family. I've had honorary degree winners, honorary Sioux letter winners -- probably as much connection as any family in this town. And I grew up attending all athletics at UND and continue to be a member of the Fighting Sioux club and a season ticket holder. I'm just very proud of the nickname and logo, so I can tell you it's a very difficult situation for me.

It's a difficult time to be on the board. I certainly don't want to be one of the people making this decision, but that's not a choice I have. I do not look forward to UND being without the nickname and logo, but I do think the board, given the various circumstances it had, came up with the best resolve it could.

Q. What have people said to you since Thursday?


A. Some of the things I can't repeat, but obviously lots of negative comments, lots of positive comments, and that's exactly what I expected. There are a certain group of people that obviously feel very strongly against what the board did, and they've been vocal about that. There have been people who have approved what the board did, and I've heard from some of those people. Most of the comments have just been they understood it was a difficult decision and that perhaps this is the best we could have come up with. I have very close friends who feel strongly about this, and we've had long conversations over it. I've heard all ends of the spectrum today.

Q. What do you think your legacy might be in the region after this resolution?

A. Well, I hope that at some point in time, UND is able to successfully complete the transition. I hope they're able to successfully affiliate themselves with either the Summit League or a league of their choosing and that their Division I athletics really gets to the next level. If that happens, I think that the long-term view of the board on this will be deemed successful. That's what I hope can happen because I think it's probably the best of what is a very difficult situation.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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