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Kelley faces questions on Sioux nickname transition

UND President Robert Kelley faced about 200 students -- many of them sporting Sioux jerseys -- and other members of the university community Friday to take their questions about retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

UND President Robert Kelley
University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley. (Herald file photo by John Stennes)

UND President Robert Kelley faced about 200 students -- many of them sporting Sioux jerseys -- and other members of the university community Friday to take their questions about retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

Some questions were edgy and tough.

One wasn't.

"Can we get you to state on the record that we aren't going to be the Flickertails again?" a young man asked plaintively, referring to the university's nickname before the Sioux name was adopted in the 1930s.

"Unequivocally," Kelley said, smiling, "we will not be the Flickertails."

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He was slightly less assured when asked about chances the State Board of Higher Education still might still reverse itself and vote to retain the Fighting Sioux nickname.

"I'd have to direct that (question) to the State Board," he said. "If I were a betting man, I would think the chances are remote. But that is an option."

Asked again at a news conference later, he said he has been directed by the board to begin the transition, "and I have to act on that. ... I have no way of even speculating on what might come down the road."

The students and others, including several American Indian students, faculty members and staff, politely grilled Kelley for about an hour at Chester Fritz Auditorium. Their questions ranged from how cash-strapped students are supposed to buy new wardrobes of $120 jerseys to whether he has concerns about security and a backlash to the logo retirement.

Acknowledging that he and members of his family "got in a little fuss with a couple of our hockey fans" recently as they left an event, Kelley said he understands that passions run high.

The university will address any "rare occurrences" where people might feel threatened, he said.

A UND police officer monitored Friday's forum, and Kelley said there will be a security presence during next week's Time Out and Wacipi, the annual celebration of Native American dance, music and other cultural activities.

"Time Out is one of the best things we do here," he said, "and I'm really looking forward to it."

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Asked about financial consequences of the logo's retirement, Kelley took issue with "folklore out there about the different forms of financial aid given to American Indians," who he said "graduate from the university with similar levels of debt" as others.

"There is folklore that American Indian students get a free ride," he said. "They don't."

He said the university's wide range of programs aimed at preparing American Indians to become doctors, nurses, scientists, educators and other professionals "is a commitment that will continue to deepen," and he said he doesn't fear retaliation from donors angry about the logo.

"There are great memories and accomplishments attached to it," he said. "As a result, many will find it difficult to say goodbye.

"The passion that our alumni and friends of the university have for UND is driven by much more than the nickname and logo. The bond is stronger than that, the connections more meaningful and the commitment more dedicated."

No jersey ban

He twice promised students that nobody will prohibit the wearing of Sioux apparel as the transition proceeds.

"I don't know if anyone would argue with you if you show up at a hockey game or basketball game in that jersey," Kelley told one questioner, clad in a green and white hockey jersey with logo. "You aren't going to hear it from me that you have to change anything."

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But "eventually, we have to retire" the name and logo, he said, "and in about a year, I suspect we'll start to look different."

Kelley said that questions remain over how the NCAA settlement affects the Ralph Engelstad Arena, a private entity. "I called the NCAA about that this morning," he said. "I did not get any clarity on that."

Asked about UND's application to join the Summit League, Kelley said that has been "in a file on a shelf" at league headquarters in Chicago, but UND Athletic Director Brian Faison called the commissioner Thursday night to report that the logo controversy -- a roadblock to league membership -- had been resolved.

"The file can now be opened," Kelley said.

Robert Boyd, vice president for student and outreach services, will serve as transition officer, Kelley said, and various stakeholders in the logo issue will be represented in a new transition cabinet reporting to the president.

"I'm confident we're going to come out of this as a better university," he said, and as a place "where we embrace our cultural diversity."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: UND NICKNAME
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