URBANA – Some faculty at the University of Illinois and other universities are asking NCAA Division I schools not to schedule sports competitions with the UI and other schools that use American Indian mascots.
A letter signed by 90 people, mostly faculty members from various universities, was sent Tuesday to the presidents, chancellors and athletic directors at more than 300 universities. The letter specifically calls for a policy that precludes competition with the UI and the University of North Dakota, which uses the nickname "Fighting Sioux."
Those signing the letter include 30 UI faculty; 24 faculty from the University of North Dakota; a former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and representatives from religious, American Indian and other organizations.
The letter comes after the NCAA adopted a policy in August that prohibits schools using "hostile or abusive" American Indian imagery from hosting postseason events or displaying such imagery at those events. When the NCAA announced its policy, it also suggested schools follow the lead of the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin, which don't schedule regular season, nonconference games with schools that use American Indian nicknames or mascots.
Asking other schools to shun the UI is a way to provide motivation for the university and others using American Indian imagery to stop using it, said Stephen Kaufman, a UI professor of cell and structural biology and a longtime opponent of Chief Illiniwek.
"We have tried all methods within the university to convince the powers that be," Kaufman said. "They don't seem to be responding in a positive way to the issue, so we need to seek support outside the institution. Other institutions stating they will not compete with the University of Illinois is a powerful statement."
UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the letter reiterates a plea that university leaders have heard before.
"Those leaders make determinations based on what they believe is in the best interest of their institutions, just as our board of trustees is engaged in a consensus conclusion process regarding Chief Illiniwek that will have an outcome in the best long-term interest of the University of Illinois," Hardy said.
But Kaufman said he hopes the letter will encourage other university leaders to support the NCAA's position. He said he has received two e-mails from athletic directors at other universities acknowledging the concerns raised in the letter are important.
Secondly, Kaufman said, "Student-athletes should be aware that Illinois and North Dakota have a problem in their athletic programs, and they should be asking themselves if this is the institution they should come and invest their academic and athletic (talents) in.
"It certainly gives fuel for other athletic directors to raise this issue with student-athletes and I think it's an issue that should rightfully be raised," Kaufman said. "I can't imagine a student-athlete would want to come and play football at the University of Illinois if they can't play in a bowl game, should they get that far."
Included with the letter were the NCAA ruling; a 2001 statement by the United States Commission on Civil Rights and a 1999 NAACP resolution, both of which oppose the use of American Indian mascots; and a resolution adopted in August by the American Psychological Association recommending the immediate retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, and images in college sports.
The American Psychological Association resolution states the use of such images establishes a hostile learning environment for American Indians, has a negative impact on the self-esteem of children, is a detrimental way of portraying their culture, is disrespectful of their spiritual beliefs, and may violate their civil rights.