SPRINGFIELD – State Senate President Emil Jones sent the University of Illinois Board of Trustees a letter this week asking for a meeting to discuss getting rid of Chief Illiniwek.
Last week Jones warned that the University of Illinois' budget would be at risk if the board of trustees did not retire the Chief before the General Assembly's scheduled May 21 adjournment, but the board is not scheduled to meet until June 17.
"Ultimately, this is just an effort to bring some resolve to this issue, by bringing everyone together," Jones' spokeswoman, Cindy Davidsmeyer, said on Thursday. "He's asking for a sit-down, and it will probably work out, since everyone's schedule is so crazy, to be meetings one-on-one or one-on-two. He really feels that we need to come to some resolve on this, and he feels that by sitting down with everyone that can happen."
UI spokesman Tom Hardy confirmed on Thursday evening that Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Eppley had received the letter, which Jones' office said was sent on Wednesday.
"I know that Chairman Eppley has indicated that he is willing to meet with President Jones at some point, I just don't think any details have been worked out," Hardy said.
Davidsmeyer said Jones is still hoping to get some resolution by the end of the legislative session.
"That would be ideal," she said.
Jones has refused to specify what exactly he is threatening with regard to the university's budget, but said he does not want tax dollars being used to permit stereotyping. Jones said the failure to retire the Chief has created a hostile atmosphere on campus that is affecting students' education.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, former Gov. Jim Edgar said he did not believe that the Chief was a matter for state government. It should be the university's decision, he said.
Edgar, who supports the Chief, said he was skeptical that Jones' threats would come to pass.
"I don't think he can enforce that, to be very truthful," he said. "He's entitled to his point of view, but I don't think the General Assembly is going to cut the university's budget on that issue."
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose approval is needed on whatever budget the General Assembly passes, has also said he does not think the university's budget should be affected by what the board decides on the Chief.
The governor has refused to reveal his own stance on Chief Illiniwek, saying he does not want to influence the board of trustees' decision. The governor is a member of the board but has never attended a meeting.
Blagojevich suggested that rather than involve the UI's budget in the debate, the General Assembly should pass a resolution to indicate to the board how it feels on the Chief issue.
The General Assembly last voted on the issue in 1995, declaring that Chief Illiniwek is the honored symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana and that it shall remain so. Edgar used his amendatory veto power to change the "shall" to "may," which essentially left the future of the Chief in the hands of the board. The General Assembly voted to approve his changes and the bill became law June 1, 1996. It is still in effect today.
State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana; state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville; and state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet; have said they support the Chief, while state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, has not publicly taken a position. However, they all agree that the Legislature should stay out of the issue entirely and leave it up to the board of trustees.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.