Jones: Mascot issue not a priority right now

Jones: Mascot issue not a priority right now

URBANA — Chancellor Robert Jones hasn't ruled out the idea of choosing a mascot or some other tradition to fill the void left by the departure of Chief Illiniwek — just "not right now."

His predecessor, former interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, endorsed the idea last May after an Illinois Student Senate panel recommended appointing a committee to find the "first-ever" mascot for the campus.

And with the UI still waiting for hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding — and poised to kick off a 150th anniversary celebration next week and a major fundraising campaign later this year — this may not be the best time, Jones told faculty members Thursday.

"This is an important issue, but in the overall scheme of things that I have to contend with to ensure the future excellence and vitality of this university, it's lower on my list," he said. "This doesn't surface as something I immediately need to address."

Jones was asked about the mascot issue at a meeting with the campus senate's General University Policy Committee. Chairman Nicholas Burbules said the committee believes it's time to initiate a process to identify some replacement for the Chief Illiniwek, the UI symbol that was retired 10 years ago.

"There's a 10-year vacuum now," Burbules said, which encourages groups that hope to eventually bring the Chief back.

Professor Kim Graber said there's momentum from students to find a replacement and "move forward in a way we haven't been able to move before."

"It really has to come from the students, because there's so much resistance," Graber said. Jones made clear that he, like his predecessors as chancellor, is troubled by the "great unrest and lack of clarity" over the Chief a decade later, as well as the related Native American imagery still used on campus that many find offensive.

He plans to launch a broader campus effort to educate students on that issue and the values of inclusiveness and respect at the university. But he fears talk of a new mascot could derail that effort.

"I'm afraid the wheels will fall off and we'll end up somewhere we're not comfortable with," he said.

Professor Joyce Tolliver said the Chief issue is a focal point for the larger issue about inclusiveness, and she suggested that the two efforts continue simultaneously.

"It might be helpful to think about it being the tip of the iceberg, when what you want to solve is the iceberg," she said.

But Jones said, over the next 12 to 24 months, "we have some issues to contend with that are fundamentally important to the future vitality of this university."

"My biggest concern, as we roll out our 150th anniversary, a comprehensive campaign, this may not be the best or most strategic time to jump into this effort the way it's been framed," he said.

"I am not saying we will not take this issue up until 18 to 24 months from now. All I'm saying is, in the current climate, and the priorities we have, I'm not prepared to immediately start a process to get nominations for the name of the next mascot. This has to rise to the top of the list at some point ... but not now."

In the long run, he said, "we clearly need to come up with a process that will lead to some new tradition that hopefully the majority of us can get behind."

It's an issue he's been asked about since his first day on the job last September. He said he's had conversations with students, alumni and others at least once a week and will continue gathering information as the university deals with more critical issues.

Jones traveled recently to Oklahoma to meet the head of the Peoria tribe that originally lived in Illinois.

The UI has had several interactions with the tribe in recent years, including a student business consulting group that advised the tribe on a golf course operation, and it's interested in collaborating on health research issues, he said.

Jones said there's no consensus that "if we only had a new symbol or mascot or tradition, everything would be fine. I am not convinced of that at all." Some people are "not interested in a mascot, period."

He said he's had "amazing conversations" with alumni who care deeply about the Chief.

"It's not about being racist," he said. "A lot of time, it's about that first impression that they had when they came to this university, that became their deepest connection to this place. And it's hard to ask people to move beyond that. You can't just put these folks in that category and disregard that perspective."

He would like to find an opportunity to have a "reconciliation and healing process that would allow us to move beyond this process. Every time I suggest that, I get pushed back."

Jones agreed with Graber and others that any effort needs to be student-driven.

He also said he's not wedded to the notion of a mascot per se.

"At the end of the day, I think what we're talking about is some new tradition that alums can get their arms around and provide a different opportunity to have some identity with the university," he said.

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Bystander wrote on February 25, 2017 at 10:02 am
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"At the end of the day, I think what we're talking about is some new tradition that alums can get their arms around and provide a different opportunity to have some identity with the university," he said.

Translation: no bringing back the Chief. wrote on February 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

Jones said there's no consensus that "if we only had a new symbol or mascot or tradition, everything would be fine. I am not convinced of that at all." Some people are "not interested in a mascot, period."




There is not going to be symbol on my watch either.


Its been ten years, whats another 10 that can be planned after I am gone.


U of I leadership at its best. 

Illinimac wrote on February 25, 2017 at 11:02 am

Thank you, Chancellor Jones, for at least acknowledging that our attachment to the Chief doesn't make us racist.  

Lostinspace wrote on February 25, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Seems to be a priority for the Sports-Gazette.

Mr Dreamy wrote on February 25, 2017 at 1:02 pm

The only ones who care are the losers who couldn't keep the Chief, some attention-needing boys who like to play dress-up, and the sophomoric News Gazette.


wayward wrote on February 25, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Translation: I got 99 problems and a mascot ain't one of 'em.

AltoonaSue wrote on February 26, 2017 at 9:02 am

Best response!!! 

jdmac44 wrote on February 25, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Etymology of mascot (n.)
"talisman, charm," 1881, from provincial French mascotte "sorcerer's charm, 'faerie friend,' good luck piece" (19c.), of uncertain origin, perhaps from or related to Provençal mascoto "sorcery, fetish" (a Narbonnese manuscript of 1233 has mascotto "procuress, enchantment, bewitchment in gambling"), from masco "witch," from Old Provençal masca, itself of unknown origin, perhaps from Medieval Latin masca "mask, specter, nightmare" (see mask (n.)). Popularized by French composer Edmond Audran's 1880 comic operetta "La Mascotte," about a household "fairy" who gives luck to an Italian peasant, performed in a toned-down translation in England from fall 1881." From

As with most sentiments associated with terms, mascot had come to appropriate negative connotations because of its common use with cartoon like characters, but really it fits the purpose that the Chief has occupied.

Tom Napier wrote on February 27, 2017 at 10:02 am

Do you not see a distinction between Chief Illiniwek and the San Diego Chicken?

PSL wrote on February 28, 2017 at 7:02 am

The biggest distinction is that the San Diego Chicken isn't racist

Tom Napier wrote on February 28, 2017 at 10:02 am

What would you say if I proclaimed the San Diego Chicken to be racist?  Am I not entitled to that opinion?

Again, why do you consider the Chief "racist?"  What attributes of the Chief Illiniwek tradition do you consider racist?  You might use the definition of racism as a basis for your opinion.  I'm not arguing with you, I just want to know your rationale.

Do you not think Sparty the Spartan, Tommy the Trojan are racist?  How about Boilermaker Pete or the name "Hoosier," which is a racial pejorative?  How about Tar Heels?  How about Cowboys and Sooners?  How about the Fighting Irish drunken leprechaun?  How about Chief Osceola and The Aztec Warrior?


Illiniwek222 wrote on February 28, 2017 at 10:02 am

As psl says, so shall it be. The troll has landed.

PSL wrote on March 01, 2017 at 1:03 am

Thanks. I love for people to acknowledge when I'm right :)

Tom Napier wrote on March 01, 2017 at 6:03 pm

It's unfortunate you (and certain others) see this issue, and probably many other issues in life, in such absolute terms as "right" and "wrong," "won" and "lost," period, no ifs-ands-or-buts. Regardless of their position, most people acknowledge it's really much more complex, more nuanced, than that either of these two extremes. 

That said, there must be a certain peacefulness, an appeal, to this totally simplistic outlook on life; Comfortably Numb, if you will. 



Illiniwek222 wrote on February 27, 2017 at 1:02 pm

jdmac may indeed be a cartoon character.

Illiniwek222 wrote on February 26, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Wow. A little common sense after the nuttiness of Cantor and Wilson. And a reasoned concern about fund raising. I'm aware of more than a few alumni who contributed to the school (often matched by their employer), but stopped when the Chief was forced out. Extrapolating this out, I imagine the school lost millions of dollars. 

johnny wrote on March 01, 2017 at 1:03 am

I think Nancy Cantor should be the mascot.  Not actual Nancy Cantor, but someone dressed up as her and openly rooting for the opposition.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 01, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Is there a chief followers website?  Why are there no demonstrations, rallies, or marches?  The Chief supporters need to make their cause visable.  Let the community know who among the movers and shakers are Chief supporters.  The Chief will not be re-instated until his followers visably demonstrate, and demand it.

Illiniwek222 wrote on March 01, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Disingenuous though Mr. Saddfork's comment may be, to view support for the Chief, all he needs do is rise out of his rocker and walk through campus or attend a football/basketball game. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 02, 2017 at 11:03 am

Oh, I was caught being "disingenuous".

Yeah, I have walked through campus, and have attended games.  I saw a bunch of fat, old people with their fat middle-age kids wearing Chief gear. 

The chief is not coming back.  What does it take for some people to understand that?  Just like horses, and buggies; the chief is gone.  He will not return as long as Illinois stays in the conference.  The alternative would be for Illinois to become a private school, and play Bob Jones Univ., and St. Mary's Girls School.  They might even win that conference.

It does not matter whether some choose to revere the chief.  They can wear their indian/chineese clothing to the games, or any where else.  It would be great if HBO Sports chose to do a story on the chief supporters.  The rest of the country would be able to see what racism produces.

Illiniwek222 wrote on March 02, 2017 at 12:03 pm

I'm not talking about the alumni, who overwhelmingly support the Chief. I'm talking about the current student body, who weren't even teenagers when the Chief was "officially" retired.   

Unofficial is tomorrow, Sidney. Take a walk around campus and tell me what the students are wearing. Feel free to berate them if you wish. That should be interesting. 

The Chief may indeed "officially" return one day. As of now, he's never really left.

Sorry if that bothers you.


Sid Saltfork wrote on March 02, 2017 at 8:03 pm

Sorry for laughing while typing....  Heck, a bunch of young adults cutting classes to get drunk will wear anything controversal.  If you are counting on them to bring back the chief, you have already missed the boat.

Please come down to reality.  The chief is not coming back.  It is not just up to the U of I.  It is up to the rest of conferences.  They want nothing to do with "honored racism".  You can still dress up in your costume though.  Oskie-wu-wu.....

WolfChief wrote on September 02, 2017 at 7:09 pm
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Disapointing. Chief, War Chant.

Better pull, the marching band - some people don't like those fuzzy hats.

On the positive side, I'd like to suggest the figure in my avatar as the new UofI mascot!