Students get a chance to vote on Chief

URBANA — Six years after Chief Illiniwek's retirement, students continue to argue about the former University of Illinois symbol — and whether the campus needs a new one.

Individuals dressed as the Chief still pop up in the crowd at UI football and basketball games. Members of the Orange Krush wear headdresses to games.

And next month, students will get another chance to register their opinion of the Chief, during a campus referendum scheduled for March 5-6.

A ballot question asks, "Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?"

Why now? It's a response to an effort by the student group Campus Spirit Revival to find a new symbol or mascot for the campus, said UI senior Matthew Paarlberg, who gathered more than 2,800 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

"Their claim is that they're the silent majority — that a majority of students want a new mascot or symbol," Paarlberg said. "I kind of disagree about that."

The Facebook page for Campus Spirit Revival says the group was created by students "as a vessel to communicate to U of I Administration, that students want an exciting, rallying, and unity building symbol for U of I, where we currently have none. Our mission is to tap into the creativity within our student body in order to find ideas for such a symbol."

The group recently held an art contest, co-sponsored by the Illinois Student Senate, to take submissions for a new symbol, offering a $200 prize to the entry that received the most votes from students. The entries had to include a symbol, a description of the significance it would have to the state or UI, a name for the symbol, and optional concept sketches of a mascot costume.

Designs were submitted through January, and a campus-wide online vote was held Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. Students were asked to rank their top five.

The results were supposed to be released on Feb. 7, with the plan to present them to UI administrators afterward.

But the sponsors haven't released the results because of a challenge from a student senator, who argued that the student senate's support for the effort conflicted with its own bylaws. He filed an appeal with the student senate's "moot court," made up of UI law students, and oral arguments are scheduled for March 14.

The bylaws state that any ballot measure that passes in a student referendum is binding on the senate, said Student Trustee David Pileski, the former student senate president who is the appellee in the case.

In a 2008 vote, students supported reinstatement of the Chief as the official UI symbol by a sizable margin — 7,718 to 2,052.

The senate itself has not taken an official stance on the Chief, Pileski said.

The student senate originally agreed to co-sponsor the contest in December 2011 in a resolution sponsored by Pileski, who was president at the time.

He said there were no complaints about that decision initially, even from Students for Chief Illiniwek, a group that supports the former UI symbol.

But the contest was delayed last year when a number of the Campus Spirit Revival members graduated early, and new senate members this academic year raised questions about the affiliation.

"It really comes down to people who support the Chief and people who want to see a new mascot," Paarlberg said. "The people who support the Chief don't want to see a new symbol come in."

Pileski, who doesn't consider himself pro- or anti-Chief, said he had supported the contest because he felt it would be good for the campus to have a new symbol.

"As a university community, it was setting a nice tone. I don't deny that Chief Illiniwek is a powerful thing that is a part of our history ... but it shouldn't allow us to not think of the future and moving forward," he said. "To me, it wasn't about replacing as enhancing the University of Illinois experience."

He doesn't feel the Chief should be "shunned," but "at the same time we are limited in how we can use it."

The designs, not surprisingly, have received plentiful comments, pro and con. And the Facebook page has drawn a fierce debate about the Chief itself, reminiscent of the nearly two-decade fight over the issue before the Chief's retirement in 2007.

A rival Facebook page, "Stop Campus Spirit Revival," was also created in response to the effort. "We are the resistance!" it proclaims.

Pileski said he's not surprised that the debate hasn't ended, as student opinion is still divided.

"A lot of people are second- and third-generation Illinois students and so they feel very strongly about the Chief," he said. "Others are very aware of social issues, and they are uncomfortable with the implications of the previous Chief mascot.

"I feel like we're still having the same arguments we were having six years ago in some ways," he said, "And that's somewhat discouraging to me."

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syrinx wrote on February 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

I have the new mascot- The state tree- the white oak. It is a symbol of strength. It would be easy to make a costume- and we could call him "MIGHTY WHITEY".  I do not think white people would consider it racist, or offensive. I would be proud!

mark taylor's ghost wrote on February 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

I have two alternative suggestions that are meant to honor and respect the cultures from which they're drawn.

The fist is "Pope Bennie," named in honor of the currently retiring Bishop of Rome. He will do a little jig and then he can "bless" the audience, who, again, all have nothing but respect and honor for this noble leader.

The second is "Whitey the Corn Farmer." Again, this is offered with nothing but respect and people who don't see that are just ignorant and need to be educated. They are politically correct outside agitators who don't understand the feelings of tradition and loyalty conjured up by a dancing hick dressed in overalls and a straw hat.

asparagus wrote on February 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I think both of those suggestions would be great. Seriously.  A farmer or a pope or a saint would be just fine.  Would not offend my sensibilities one bit.  I also think the Chief is a very good symbol as well -- we should have kept it. 

syrinx wrote on February 23, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Always funny to see a racist complain about racism, all the while acting like they are above it.

mark taylor's ghost wrote on February 26, 2013 at 4:02 pm

How is what I wrote racist?

You just are unable to comprehend the unfathomable level of respect and sense of honor I hold in my heart for both Pope Bennie and Whitey the Corn Farmer. How DARE you not respect my right to appropriate the culture of others.

That's the REAL RACISM!!!!!!!!11!

vcponsardin wrote on February 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm
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Another pointless student vote on the chief?  Really?  Why?  Regardless the outcome, the chief is gone.  End of story.  Given some people's attitudes about this, the U of I should replace the chief with the Fighting Flatlanders.  Seems more appropriate.

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm

OK I'm going out on a limb here but I'm suggesting a Bulldog for a mascot. Yes I know there is a glut of every kind of sports teams with a bulldog as a mascot but what will one more harm anything? They also don't mind the exploitation as it gives them a more inflated sense of self worth than they already have. They also love University Administrators...To poop on!

spangwurfelt wrote on February 24, 2013 at 12:02 am

All this talk of giving another jolt to the bolts of Zombie Chief makes me think of what Frankenstein said to Mrs. Frankenstein in "Bride of Frankenstein": "We belong dead."

The Chief is gone. If you're still mourning a mascot half a decade after he was given the boot, then maybe you need to take another look at your life's priorities.

DeafeningSilence wrote on February 25, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Just to provide some context, the move to put this question on the ballot is in direct response to the horribly botched "mascot search" by Campus Spirit Revival, a small student group on campus. This quasi-official poll collected ~30 submissions for new mascots, most of them rediculous (the Kraken, theinfamous Farm Bot, or rabid squirrels were just a few). Students (pro-Chief or not) were rightfully upset that there wasn't a "No" option for which students could say that they did not want a new mascot. The student group ignored student concerns and went on with the "vote" anyway, though the release of the results is being held due to the fact that it was essentially a sham. 

So in response, pro-Chief students gathered enough signatures to get this question on the official ballot. By initiating this move, I don't think people expect (or necessarily want) the Chief to come back, but are rather using it as a clear statement that they don't want the University to move forward with a new mascot based on some rediculous excuse for a vote.

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

They should go with the kingfishers. They're already orange and blue.

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://cache.desktopnexus.com/thumbn...

bluegrass wrote on March 01, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I like that.  But, will they be EVIL Kingfishers?...

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2013 at 3:03 pm

blue;  Please tell me that is not your driver's license photo.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 01, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Can't see the picture: Describe, please.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2013 at 3:03 pm

It is an evil looking photo.  I have seen the face before somewhere.  It could be an IRS agent I had dealings with in the past; a U of I administrator; or a conservative political candidate.  I think it maybe one of Jim Edgar's flunkys when he was in office.  I know I have seen it somewhere.

bluegrass wrote on March 04, 2013 at 10:03 am

Holy Cow, it's frickin Doctor Evil, people.

foosball112 wrote on February 27, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Why is a mascot needed anyway?  Is someone dancing in a costume at halftime really going to improve the team playing?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I agree, foosball112.  There has not been a mascot for the past few years.  Is one really needed in the future?  The only advantage would be the trademark patent for merchandise sold with the mascot on it.  That would be a sizeable cut of the action.  Maybe, just the word "Unofficial".

read the DI wrote on March 01, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I like Whitey the Corn Farmer. Or Henry Hayseed.

 

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Heck, it is Illinois.  Have it be a caricuture of a corrupt politician, or a hooker.  A talking red dot like HAL would work also.  Just don't have it be a cardinal, huskie, saluki, or a panther.  Those mascots still have integrity. 

cretis16 wrote on March 01, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Hey, how about we hire Florida State's Chief Osceola, to preform in place of our Chief IlliniWek? NCAA has no problem with Florida State and the horse and spear...so we could use him in place of our chief?

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Yes, and USC has the Trojans.

danrice56 wrote on March 01, 2013 at 11:03 pm

A new symbol and mascot will bring millions into the university. And they're offering 200$ to the person who comes up with it? How freaking generous.

SaintClarence27 wrote on March 02, 2013 at 6:03 am

I deserve the money for the kingfishers. If they go with evil kingfishers, I will split it with bluegrass.

read the DI wrote on March 03, 2013 at 11:03 am

I've got it! It should be Chief-Hater-in-Chief Stephen Kaufman. Perhaps then we could rename ourselves the Fighting Jews (a la the Fighting Irish).