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UND donations remain stable

Despite a rash of threats by passionate defenders of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname, the university's alumni organization reports taking a relatively small hit so far in donations and pledges.

UND Fighting Sioux logo
UND Fighting Sioux logo

Despite a rash of threats by passionate defenders of UND's Fighting Sioux nickname, the university's alumni organization reports taking a relatively small hit so far in donations and pledges.

Of 346 voicemail, e-mail and other direct responses to the State Board of Higher Education's April 8 decision to retire the nickname, 38 people asked to be removed from the alumni database, said Tim O'Keefe, executive vice president of the UND Alumni Association and its fundraising arm, the UND Foundation.

Of those, one had been a major donor, defined by the association as one giving more than $25,000, he said.

The database contains about 100,000 names of alumni and friends of UND. The association tallied "a record number of donors" in the last fiscal year, O'Keefe said, "and we're on track to do the same this year."

He said he does not expect the nickname controversy to damage the university or have a lasting effect. "In terms of actual impact, I don't think you can measure it, and I don't think you can for at least a year," he said.

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"We take every one of them (who said they would withhold contributions) seriously," O'Keefe said. "But it's not a big number." As far as lasting damage goes, "I'm hopeful that won't be the case."

The 346 responses were tabulated within 72 hours after the board's decision, O'Keefe said, and there's been just a trickle since.

A recent telephone campaign soliciting alumni contributions also found little evidence that the nickname issue is likely to dent fundraising to any serious degree.

'No more money'

But hundreds of fans have registered their disapproval on a new Facebook site called "No more Fighting Sioux, No more donations." Another site asks nickname supporters to sign a petition demanding that the board reverse its decision. Organizers say their goal is 50,000 signatures. As of Wednesday, they had just about 4,900.

"We have threatened it," the host of the "no more donations" site wrote in an initial post just hours after the board acted on April 8. "Now it's time to act. Donate no more money to UND until the name is restored!

"Blaming it (the nickname's retirement) on the Board of Higher Ed is a cop-out. UND needed a scapegoat to avoid alumni backlash. It's time to hit them where they will feel it."

Over the next several days, some posters gleefully reported contacts by UND about donations and how they "stood by our principles," telling the caller "never again, not until the decision is reversed."

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One person who had not yet been solicited wrote, "For the first time, I really hope they call me!" -- so she could say no and explain why.

No formal position

The alumni association's board has not taken a formal position on the controversy, O'Keefe said. As a former Sioux athlete with deep ties to the name and logo, he said he "can join in the disappointment people feel" about retiring the traditional symbols.

"But for the life of me, I don't understand those who threaten or actually do quit supporting the cause -- UND -- they purport to be so passionate about," he said.

"I'm going to do everything I can to continue to support our student athletes. It just puzzles me when people say that's how they're going to express themselves, by withholding support. That doesn't do one positive thing."

Some American Indian students at UND who have sought removal of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo said they believe donations lost will be made up by donations gained.

"The alumni office called me a week after I graduated and asked me to donate," said Frank Sage, 40, a Navajo now doing graduate work in sociology. "I said, 'Sure, when the nickname goes.' "

Emmy Scott, 24, a UND political science junior who has family ties to the Nebraska Winnebago and North Dakota Arikara tribes, said both her parents are UND graduates, and her father recently was called about a contribution.

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"He told them, 'Not as long as you have that name,'" she said.

Donation rate stable

In regular donations appeals, UND student callers have made 2,166 contacts since April 8, "and donor patterns were relatively normal," O'Keefe said. That is, the proportion of people who said they would donate to the school remained about the same as in previous years.

"Less than 5 percent of the non-donors made a specific reference to the name and logo situation," he said.

"And the tenor of those responses has been pretty cordial. When people have a face or a voice to respond to, they tend to be less emotional. They don't take their anger out on our student callers, and we're grateful for that."

Some of the people who registered their displeasure directly with O'Keefe immediately after the State Board action "tended to be emotional," he said. "Some who talked to me were nasty, swearing, saying stuff you just have to blow off.

"About 75 were directed at me. I answered all of them, no matter how ugly they were. And since then, I've had maybe half a dozen apologies."

Alumni officials faced a similar reaction in May 2009, he said, after the higher education board initially voted to direct UND to begin retiring the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

That action was suspended by legal and other maneuvering until April 8, when the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the board's authority to deal with the nickname controversy. Later that day, a motion to reconsider the May 2009 vote failed for lack of a second, and the board directed UND President Robert Kelley to resume the transition away from Fighting Sioux.

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

On the web:

- Encouraging no more donations: www.facebook.com/pages/No-more-Fighting-Sioux-No-more-Alumni-donations-t...

- Pro-nickname petition: www.petitionspot.com/petitions/sioux

- UND Alumni Association: www.undalumni.org

- UND Foundation: www.undfoundation.org

Related Topics: UND SPORTS
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