Trustees mostly mum on symbol
URBANA – Trustees of the University of Illinois say the future of Chief Illiniwek is their decision to make, but most aren't saying how they would vote on the issue.
They also aren't saying when – or if – such a vote might come.
The board last year pledged to reach a consensus on the issue and adopted guidelines in July to help do so. But trustees have faced increasing criticism in the last few years for their failure to resolve the issue. Supporters and opponents of Chief Illiniwek have accused them of dragging their feet, but trustees say they are not ignoring the issue.
"I know the illusion to the public is we're doing nothing," Trustee Marjorie Sodemann said. "That's not true. We're wracking our brains."
"We would all like to solve this, but so far we haven't come up with the right answer," she said. "We thought we were getting closer until this happened with the NCAA."
The NCAA enacted a policy in August limiting postseason competition for schools using "hostile or abusive" American Indian imagery. The UI filed an appeal with the NCAA a week ago, and its goal is to be off that list of schools, one way or another, when the policy takes effect Feb. 1, 2006, said board Chairman Larry Eppley.
Board members say the NCAA should not be involved in deciding the Chief issue.
"I don't believe we needed the NCAA or anyone else to tell us when to make a decision," said Trustee Bob Sperling.
"The trustees have worked very hard to reach consensus on this issue," Sperling said. "I think we should have been given the opportunity to deal with this issue and we would have dealt with this issue in a timely manner. Giving an artificial deadline does more harm than good because it creates more hostility between the two sides. But we're going to do the right thing for university."
Trustee Frances Carroll thinks the NCAA was correct in enacting its policy, but she had hoped the UI would resolve the issue before now.
"For 15 years or more, it's been a debate. If it was OK, there would not be a debate," Carroll said. "My saddest moment was when we hadn't done anything and this policy came out. We hadn't done anything and we have to do something. It's a hard call. It's our responsibility. It's in our lap and we have to stand up."
"We're certainly not trying to avoid it," she said, but added that she believes it has been a distraction.
But others said they have not been giving short shrift to other issues because of the Chief.
"Putting aside whether it's been a lot of time or a little time, it hasn't prevented us from doing all the other things we do as a board. We've addressed a lot of policy issues wholly outside of things related to the Chief," said Eppley, citing domestic partner benefits as another high-profile issue the board has dealt with in the last few years.
Even if the issue is resolved in the next few months, one trustee said the board won't be through dealing with it.
"The problem is, whatever way it would go if we vote it up or down, it's not going to end there," Sodemann said. "It's too ingrained in people's emotions."