UI Senate approves resolution urging leaders to put Chief in past

UI Senate approves resolution urging leaders to put Chief in past

URBANA — The campus senate is urging University of Illinois leaders to move beyond the decades-long Chief Illiniwek controversy by supporting Native American programs and research on campus and enforcing its trademark rights over Chief imagery.

By a 93-19 vote, the Academic Senate on Monday approved a resolution calling on the campus to use an upcoming "critical conversation" on Native American imagery in April as a "springboard to further action putting the 'Chief' in the institution's past."

Submitted by the senate's Equal Opportunity and Inclusion Committee, the resolution says Chancellor Robert Jones has taken welcome steps to move on from the Chief, but the repeated appearances of individuals dressed in Chief regalia at athletic events further a climate that perpetuates racism and undermines the participation of American Indian students, faculty and staff at those events.

It calls on the campus to rebuild the American Indian Studies program on campus — which suffered after the UI withdrew its job offer to one of its recruits, Steven Salaita — and make a "robust" commitment to use research there for educational programs about American Indian history and culture to help people understand "the role of Native American mascots in misrepresenting that history."

"Those are the important ways and appropriate ways to have the university show its respect for American Indians," co-sponsor Kathryn Oberdeck said Monday.

It also calls on the university to enforce its trademark rights over the Chief and the phrase "Oskee-Wow-Wow" and better regulate "uses of the racist mock 'Indian' by university organizations."

Oberdeck, chair of the equal opportunity committee, said students have emphasized a need to move on from the Chief debate to make the campus more welcoming, especially to indigenous students.

She said it's important for the university to support the American Indian Studies program, which is rebuilding after losing all of its core faculty in the controversy over Salaita's departure, and use research by Native American scholars in representations of its Indian heritage.

She said the committee is dismayed by the small number of indigenous students on campus "and the obstacle offensive imagery puts in the way of improving this record."

There were no other public comments about the resolution at Monday's meeting, which had reconvened after the regularly scheduled March 5 session ran long.

'Slap in the face'

Another resolution calling on the campus to stop appearances by unauthorized Chief Illiniwek portrayers at UI sporting events, was pulled by its sponsor, Professor Jay Rosenstein. He said he wanted to make technical changes and needed to consult with other sponsors before bringing it back to the senate.

That resolution had said the appearances constitute a protest of the UI's 2007 decision to retire the Chief, violating policies that ban indoor protests at State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium.

Last week, Breelyn Fay, a staunch Chief supporter and member of the Honor the Chief Society, spoke out against the resolutions. Fay, who said she is of Shawnee descent, applauded the goal of improving education and opportunities for Native American students in an "all-inclusive community where no one is discriminated against or placed in hostile environment."

"Eliminating any vestige of our history will have the opposite effect," she argued.

She accused faculty members of pushing "their own warped opinions on a race they do not belong to."

"This is not an open dialogue; this is an insult, a slap in the face, not only to the thousands in the community who hold the nearly century-old legacy of the Chief in their hearts, but to the multitude of natives on the other side of the issue whose existence you refuse to even acknowledge, including mine," she said.

Chief opponents argue that the vast majority of native leaders oppose the use of Native American imagery in sports.

Oberdeck said she was surprised by the lack of debate Monday and encouraged by the strong majority in favor of the resolution.

After the meeting, Provost Andreas Cangellaris said the campus has made clear that "conversations are very important, but they have to be followed with action, and I think the campus is ready to take it ... (and) put the history behind us, think about the future in a much more constructive way that brings the community together."

He said the campus can't stop people from bringing costumes into the athletic venues, "but what exactly are the rules that people are expected to abide by when they're in the arena is something the campus has complete control over."

"I hope the conversations will lead us down a path that will help everybody come to terms with the fact that we are a campus where freedom of speech and freedom of expression are our foundation, but at the same time, expectations of behavior make all the difference in the world."

Provost: I apologize

Also Monday, Cangellaris said the two-week strike by the Graduate Employees Organization amounted to "the most taxing and difficult" time in his 21 years as a UI faculty member, "as I'm sure they have been for many of you."

The provost was criticized for being out of town during part of the strike, and for some of the language in mass mails to students and faculty about the contract dispute. Senators accused him of failing to consult with faculty leaders about contract provisions that affect academics, and for suggesting that students who felt unsafe crossing picket lines contact UI Police.

"Over the past few weeks, we heard many voices on this campus," said Cangellaris, who became provost in January. "We heard voices of confusion, voices of anxiety, frustration, voices of suspicion, voices of disappointment, even rage. I said things, and I did things that were blamed as putting more oil in the fire that was amplifying those voices and criticized for being unhelpful.

"I regret this deeply, and I sincerely apologize for this," he said.

He said graduate education and research are the foundation of the university, and "we must double down on our commitment and support it and steward it in the years ahead, no matter what the headwinds, no matter what the challenges we encounter."

Graduate students are "our indispensable partners. We teach together, we research together, we learn together," he said. "Their excellence is our excellence, and their success is our responsibility and our pride."

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Illiniwek222 wrote on March 13, 2018 at 10:03 am

The height of hypocrisy...calling the Chief racist while supporting the bigot-in-chief Salaita.

Meanwhile Rosie fine tunes his anti First Amendment resolution, while ignoring the feelings of a Native American Illiniwek supporter.