UI Senate rejects Rosenstein's Chief resolution, OKs one calling for new protest policies

UI Senate rejects Rosenstein's Chief resolution, OKs one calling for new protest policies

URBANA — An effort to stop unauthorized Chief Iliniwek appearances at University of Illinois sporting events fell short Monday, but the Academic Senate approved a substitute resolution calling on the campus to revise protest policies at UI athletic facilities.

The substitute motion, which passed on a close vote, calls for revising the "vague, poorly worded and selectively enforced" policy and for consistent enforcement of any new version.

Chancellor Robert Jones said a campus committee is already reviewing all of the campus free-speech and protest policies to ensure they're consistent and constitutional, and he will work with the senate on the issue.

"The policy is poorly written and does need to be revised," Jones said, and any new version needs to be "enforced uniformly."

Professor Jay Rosenstein had introduced the original resolution, which argued that the Chief appearances are an act of protest against the university's decision to drop the Chief and therefore violate a ban on indoor protests at the State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium. Rosenstein also said they violate the university's 2007 agreement with the NCAA to stop using Native American imagery.

He said the resolution took no position on the protest policy but emphasized it should be enforced equally.

Protests at State Farm

Rosenstein said activists protesting a "Paint the Hall Chief" event in February were forced to picket outside the arena, while inside, pro-Chief fans wore Chief regalia and waved small signs reading "Save the Chief." One student group said at the time that some of its signs had been confiscated, but members distributed others to fans.

Rosenstein said staff members at the stadium and State Farm Center have allowed, or in some cases helped, unauthorized Chief portrayers appear at games for years. It was only after anti-Chief groups announced they would protest the Feb. 22 event that the center "announced that there had long been a no-protest policy and that it would be enforced against this group," he said.

The policy appears on the State Farm Center's website, but it's not clear when it was added. Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler quoted State Farm Center officials who said it's been a policy for about 10 years.

Rosenstein showed several photos of UI police officers or State Farm Center ushers standing near an unofficial Chief portrayer, including one inside the arena where they appeared to be stopping traffic in the aisle, so fans wouldn't interrupt the Chief's appearance, and another where officers appeared to be escorting him into the arena.

"Not only does this complicit behavior have to stop, but it's time for the university to step forward and not allow Chief Illiniwek to appear at University of Illinois events," Rosenstein said to some applause.

'Uneasy truce'

Chief supporter Breelyn Fay, a UI employee who is Native American, said the performances don't fall under the definition of a protest, which she defined as "bearing witness on behalf of an express cause, by words or actions, with regards to particular events, policies or situations."

"An appearance and a performance that is part of a tradition for almost 100 years ... cannot be reduced legally or in any other way to a protest," she said. "It is an honor."

She also argued that passing the resolution would destroy an "uneasy truce" between the pro- and anti-Chief sides.

Earlier, the senate had narrowly approved floor privileges for Fay to speak at the meeting, by a one-vote margin.

Professor Nicholas Burbules offered the substitute resolution, emphasizing that he opposes the Chief and would like to "put this issue behind us. This resolution is not the way to do it."

"The senate should be questioning the policy, not urging we apply it more widely," he said.

Burbules argued that hindering protests for or against the Chief is a "slippery slope" that could lead to banning "Black Lives Matter" shirts or athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

Earlier, Rosenstein had argued that "nothing about this has to do with T-shirts. People have been wearing Chief Illiniwek T-shirts and jackets and hats at games forever. Again, the question is applying the policy evenly."

But he said he knew of several fans who were forced by State Farm Center security to turn their anti-Chief T-shirts inside-out before they were allowed into the game.

Burbules argued that Rosenstein's resolution would disrupt the campus conversation underway to try to move the Chief debate forward, "just when we might be on the verge of a breakthrough of this controversy."

Graduate student Rahul Raju, a co-sponsor of Rosenstein's resolution, agreed the policy needs improvement, but said the issue could be incorporated into the ongoing conversation.

"It's a question of equal enforcement," he said. "I think the cost of inaction, maintaining the status quo, that is something that we too often fail to consider in these conversations."

Professor Bruce Rosenstock agreed: "This type of parliamentary maneuvering is precisely what has led our senate to be reviled. We should speak to an issue and have the courage to vote on it."

The amendment process caused confusion when senators were asked to close debate on the issue, with some thinking they were merely voting to end debate on the amendments. After an unsuccessful attempt to reopen debate, the senate voted by a 50-45 margin to replace Rosenstein's resolution with the substitute motion, and later approved that by a vote of 65-28.

Raju and other Chief opponents said later that they were disappointed and felt the original resolution might have prevailed if debate had continued.

"This new resolution doesn't have any timeline on it, it doesn't have any standards really," said outgoing Illinois Student Government President Raneem Shamseldin. "It hasn't solved the problem."