URBANA — Academic senate leaders at the University of Illinois have unanimously reaffirmed their position on the former symbol of the campus: Keep Chief Illiniwek in the past.
The resolution — drawn up in response to a recent proposal by former Chief Illiniwek portrayers to bring back a modified, non-dancing version of the Chief — reinforces previous statements by the senate that call for the tradition to be retired. It also expresses full support for Chancellor Phyllis Wise's recent statements in which she has said Chief Illiniwek is a part of the school's past, not future.
In the non-binding resolution, the group also backs action taken by the UI Board of Trustees in 2007 to officially end the use of Chief Illiniwek, the dance and use of any Native American imagery for the university, "and we see no reason to revisit the decision," said UI Professor Nicholas Burbules, who wrote the resolution.
The Senate Executive Committee, a group of faculty, students and academic professionals, unanimously passed the resolution Wednesday afternoon.
The resolution was drawn up quickly, Burbules said, because they wanted trustees to know about it before they meet next week in Chicago. A representative from the Council of Chiefs, the group of former Chief portrayers, has requested time during the public comment session of that meeting to address trustees, according to Steve Raquel, president of the council and Chief Illiniwek in 1992-93. Faculty also have requested time to speak during the meeting.
As reported by The News-Gazette earlier this month, Raquel's group has proposed a Chief portrayer to appear on the Memorial Stadium field at two events in a year. There would be no dancing involved, and the costume would be developed by the group in consultation with the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, according to the group.
The head of the Peoria tribe has said he didn't support the proposal because the idea lacks the UI's backing. He also said bringing back the Chief is not a way of respecting the Native American culture. Wise has said she is seeking ways to "memorialize and respect" the past tradition, and "bringing back the Chief is not in the future."
"We wanted to reaffirm and support what (Wise) has said, which is, 'we're not going back,'" Burbules said.
"We need to worry about university finances," and other important issues, not Chief Illiniwek, added Senate Chair Matthew Wheeler on Wednesday. The Chief's retirement "has been decided. It's been settled."
Members said Wednesday that they were not speaking for the full senate, which does not meet during the summer session. The resolution did reference previously passed resolutions in 1998 and 2004 that called on the university to retire the Chief.
The campus senate's vote is a non-binding opinion, much like the student referendum that supported the Chief earlier this year, Raquel said. In a student referendum this spring voters, by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, reaffirmed their support for the former symbol.
"This isn't going to get resolved by people saying they like it or not," Raquel said. "At the end of the day, it's clear that the ultimate decision should go to the board of trustees."
Raquel continued: "We would like a formal vote. They should have the ultimate voice in saying we should move forward or we should not move forward with an opportunity that we feel is clearly a win-win for the university and for the tradition."
Neither board Chair Christopher Kennedy nor UI President Bob Easter were available Wednesday for comment. University spokesman Tom Hardy pointed out that trustees acted on the tradition six years ago, and "pursuant to that action the matter is in the hands of the campus administration."
When trustees in 2007 voted to end the tradition, in the resolution they delegated the Urbana campus chancellor to "manage the final disposition" of the matter.
"It's not our official symbol, but it will always be part of us," said UI graduate student Calvin Lear who voted in support of the resolution. "I think we need to move forward," he said, and students need to drive that process.
Some students have tried to move on by creating on online contest last year asking for students to submit new images for a possible new symbol for the campus. The group, Campus Spirit Revival, later allowed people to vote for their favorites.
Results from that online contest were released last week following the decision of a moot student court. Because the Illinois Student Senate, a quasi-legislative body of elected students, agreed back in 2011 to co-sponsor the contest, another student group, called Stop Campus Spirit Revival, questioned the "constitutionality" of the student senate's action.
The results showed the most votes were cast for "no change."
Earlier this spring, students also held a Chief-related referendum. In response to the question, "Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," 9,003 students marked yes and 2,517 students voted no.
"It's definitely a difficult decision especially when there have been recent referendum on this by the students," said Jim Maskeri, a student senator who voted in support of the Senate Executive Committee resolution on Wednesday. "But my four years in the student and academic senates have prepared me for voting my mind in this instance," he said. "Because it's a restatement of past resolutions, it was appropriate to vote for this. This was the will of senates in the past," he said.
News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.