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Some nickname advice for UND

Last week, when UND Provost Paul LeBel e-mailed faculty members reminding them to not let emotions get the better of them even as the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy twists and turns, what he was doing was heeding the advice of an informal co...

Last week, when UND Provost Paul LeBel e-mailed faculty members reminding them to not let emotions get the better of them even as the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy twists and turns, what he was doing was heeding the advice of an informal committee formed in April.

Bob Boyd, vice president of student and outreach services, convened that committee to help him get a grip on how the university might deal with the issue during the next several months.

The work of the committee is apparently still in draft form -- Boyd characterized it as undergoing changes daily -- but President Robert Kelley has read parts of it and Boyd has briefed him.

An overriding concern, Boyd said, was how to prevent the issue from fracturing the UND community, whether it keeps the nickname or not. LeBel's e-mail was part of that, he said, as are the briefings he gave to the student and faculty senates, all of which stress core values such as respect and understanding.

The group also considered what would happen if some in the community aren't respectful or understanding. Boyd said the president, in being briefed, also asked if security was adequate, just in case.

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Admittedly, keeping the nickname was considered to be potentially less trouble than losing it, said Peter Johnson, who heads the university relations office and sat in on the committee meetings.

The committee was made up of students, two of whom are American Indians; a UND official; an alumnus; an area resident and a representative from the athletics department. For the most part, they were not picked for having strong or clear opinions on one side of the issue or another, Boyd said.

Sensitive issue

Reflecting the sensitivity of the issue, Boyd stressed that the committee, now disbanded, was for his edification and was in no way a precursor to a transition committee that the state would ask the president to form should the nickname go away.

That is, UND is not preparing for a transition because that's both out of its control -- the State Board of Higher Education is in charge -- and unknowable -- it depends on whether the state's namesake tribes give the nickname their blessings.

Boyd said neither he nor the committee spoken with SBHE members, responding to queries whether the committee might have influenced the board in some small measure. "That would be incredible inappropriate," he said.

In fact, the draft report the committee produced was more like a list of general concerns than any specific transition plan, he said, because the committee to work on that would have to be convened by the president. The committee didn't, for example, address any process for adopting a new nickname, he said.

Still, Boyd's committee was so worried about being seen as trying to influence the issue, he said, that it resolved to stop meeting in May after the SBHE tightened the deadline to receive those blessings to Oct. 1.

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The state's settlement with the NCAA, which considers Indian nicknames offensive, said the deadline is February 2010.

By August, with the deadline looming, Boyd said he realized he needed to have advice ready for the president and reconvened the committee.

"It's a very fine line that we're walking," he said. "Several of us are obviously in a position where we're expected to provide leadership and advisement to the president and the university community. And you don't do that without being as thoughtful and informed as possible."

By this he meant himself and the previous provost, who thought of forming the informal committee.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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