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VIEWPOINT: Ed board short shifts procedure

GRAND FORKS -- Most people who I talk to are for keeping the Fighting Sioux name. All are tired of the controversy surrounding it. But the State Board of Higher Education really jumped the gun when it decided to retire the name before proper proc...

GRAND FORKS -- Most people who I talk to are for keeping the Fighting Sioux name. All are tired of the controversy surrounding it.

But the State Board of Higher Education really jumped the gun when it decided to retire the name before proper procedure was followed.

The decision came before the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had a full chance to vote on the matter. And frankly, I think it came before a fair and open hearing on the issue. Judging by the letters to the editor, radio talk show comments and bloggers' feedback, it appears that not only was the tribal council left out of the process but also the public at large was, too.

As a member of the Grand Forks School Board, I can attest to what makes for a sound board decision. I've voted against issues that did not follow proper procedure even though I agreed with the substance of the motion. And when board members decided to change Grand Forks Central High School's "Redskins" nickname in 1990, they did it right.

I wasn't on the board then, but I know that there were a number of public hearings on the name change. It was a very emotional issue, and many hours were spent on listening to the public and deliberating on the decision.

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Four years later, the school adopted the Knights nickname. In the interim, Central High transitioned from no school moniker to being known as simply the "Maroon and Gray." Then, students voted, and "Knights" won. It was a painful but fair process.

In the case of the Fighting Sioux name, a number of complexities have made the process more difficult. First, the NCAA forced the issue by ruling against colleges and universities with American Indian nicknames. Then, the North Dakota attorney general sued the NCAA, and a settlement was reached that gave the state board until November 2010 to gain the approval of the state's two Sioux tribes.

The Spirit Lake Sioux Tribal Council voted to approve the name. Standing Rock's council decision is pending. But two weeks ago, the North Dakota Supreme Court weighed in and stated that the state board had the power to change the name at any time. The board did just that on the very day of the court's decision.

No wonder people are upset. There was no effort to hear public debate. When proper procedure is neglected, the outcome of the decision-making gets questioned. People have been left with the impression that the game is over at halftime. It's as though the second period has passed, and you're one goal behind, but the refs call, "Game over."

Not only did the decision ignore those Standing Rock Sioux tribal members who wanted to be heard, but also many other voices were not heard as well. The board is hearing them now because there had not been an adequate procedure in place before the decision was made.

By making the decision to drop the nickname prematurely, the State Board of Higher Education may have made matters worse rather than better. At this point, I wouldn't be willing to fall on my sword to keep the Sioux name because the name seems to invoke so much controversy in our state, and the only way to reduce that controversy is through a change.

But I would like to see proper procedure followed in this highly charged and emotionally sensitive issue concerning a great and honorable institution, UND.

A motion for reconsideration should be addressed at the next board meeting. I'd like to see the third period of this game.

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Lamb is a member of the Grand Forks School Board.

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