Campus constitutional fight holds up Chief vote results
URBANA — The decision to temporarily withhold the results of this week's referendum on Chief Illiniwek was prompted by two students involved in a campus constitutional fight over the Chief, student leaders said Friday.
In the latest twist in the Chief saga, the Campus Student Election Commission was ordered by a student moot court not to release the vote tally on a referendum question asking "Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?" The UI retired the Chief in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA.
The moot court will hear oral arguments next week in a related case brought by the same student senator who sponsored the Chief resolution, Josh Good. He had objected to the Illinois Student Senate's sponsorship of a student design contest for a new campus mascot.
Students emphasized that campus administrators had nothing to do with the injunction on the Chief results from Tuesday and Wednesday's online election.
"That's just not true at all," said Student Trustee David Pileski, a central figure in the case.
— Back in December 2011, the Illinois Student Senate agreed to co-sponsor an art contest for a new mascot by a group called Campus Spirit Revival. Pileski, then student senate president, sponsored the resolution.
— The contest began last year but was delayed when several Campus Spirit Revival members graduated early and left campus. It resumed this academic year, and students were asked to vote on their favorite design.
— New senators this year raised questions about the senate's sponsorship, saying senate bylaws required it to abide by a 2008 student referendum that showed strong support for the Chief.
— Good filed a formal appeal with the student senate, which was forwarded to a moot court composed of UI law students under procedures outlined in the senate's constitution. The court is set to hear oral arguments in the case Wednesday.
— The results of the voting on the mascot contest were then withheld because of the pending constitutional challenge.
— Pileski and Good filed a joint motion asking the moot court to withhold the election results until after the ruling on the senate constitutional question. The court agreed to an injunction earlier this week.
UI law student Adam Joines, chairman of the Campus Student Election Commission, said he received word of the court's decision on Monday and the official order on Wednesday. Only a handful of people know the results of the Chief vote at this point, he said.
Explaining his motion, Pileski said the question in the moot-court case is whether student referendum results are binding on the senate. The results of this week's Chief referendum will be interpreted differently depending on the moot court's ruling, he said.
Pileski said he initially planned to ask the court to postpone the referendum altogether until the constitutional question was settled. But Good objected, and the two students agreed to withhold the results as "a middle ground" to avoid another legal fight, Pileski said.
"We agreed that was the best compromise," he said. "It allows for everyone to have a clear understanding of where these referendum questions stand."
Good said he would have liked to see the vote count on the Chief released Thursday afternoon along with the other election results, but delaying it for a few days was preferable to postponing the referendum entirely.
He said it was important to gauge how students feel about the Chief, expressing "no doubt" that the results will show support for the former UI symbol based on turnout and the strong showing of pro-Chief trustee candidates.
He also said he wanted to ensure that the moot court case moved ahead.
"This is not optimal, but I believe that the moot-court case is the best way to stop Campus Spirit Revival from creating a new mascot," Good said.
The moot court has authority over the elections under the Illinois Student Senate Constitution, Pileski said. It gives the court authority to review items challenged by a student, and because of the nature of this case, it has oversight over the Student Election Commission, which is also established by the student senate and runs student elections, he said.
This is the first full judicial hearing under the relatively new student senate constitution, Pileski said, so "this is all vague, uncharted territory."
The senate does have an administrative adviser, Associate Dean of Students Rhonda Kirts, but she plays a support role, he said. Administrators could step in and ask students to release the results, Pileski said, but "they try to stay out of student matters like this."
Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler and Kirts emphasized that this is strictly a student senate matter. Kaler said there was no administrative pressure to withhold the results.
"That's just silly. The election's over," Kaler said.
Pileski said the results could be made public as early as Wednesday, depending on the court's ruling. He hopes it will rule on the question involving the 2008 referendum and give the senate guidance on how to interpret the 2013 referendum results as well.
Pileski said he's dismayed that the issue has gotten to the point of a court battle.
"It's not that this (contest) was going to officially choose a new mascot. It was simply a poll. We're fighting and we're seeing things delayed because of a fight over a survey," he said.