URBANA — Six years after Chief Illiniwek's retirement, students continue to argue about the former University of Illinois symbol — and whether the campus needs a new one.
Individuals dressed as the Chief still pop up in the crowd at UI football and basketball games. Members of the Orange Krush wear headdresses to games.
And next month, students will get another chance to register their opinion of the Chief, during a campus referendum scheduled for March 5-6.
A ballot question asks, "Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?"
Why now? It's a response to an effort by the student group Campus Spirit Revival to find a new symbol or mascot for the campus, said UI senior Matthew Paarlberg, who gathered more than 2,800 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
"Their claim is that they're the silent majority — that a majority of students want a new mascot or symbol," Paarlberg said. "I kind of disagree about that."
The Facebook page for Campus Spirit Revival says the group was created by students "as a vessel to communicate to U of I Administration, that students want an exciting, rallying, and unity building symbol for U of I, where we currently have none. Our mission is to tap into the creativity within our student body in order to find ideas for such a symbol."
The group recently held an art contest, co-sponsored by the Illinois Student Senate, to take submissions for a new symbol, offering a $200 prize to the entry that received the most votes from students. The entries had to include a symbol, a description of the significance it would have to the state or UI, a name for the symbol, and optional concept sketches of a mascot costume.
Designs were submitted through January, and a campus-wide online vote was held Jan. 30 and Feb. 1. Students were asked to rank their top five.
The results were supposed to be released on Feb. 7, with the plan to present them to UI administrators afterward.
But the sponsors haven't released the results because of a challenge from a student senator, who argued that the student senate's support for the effort conflicted with its own bylaws. He filed an appeal with the student senate's "moot court," made up of UI law students, and oral arguments are scheduled for March 14.
The bylaws state that any ballot measure that passes in a student referendum is binding on the senate, said Student Trustee David Pileski, the former student senate president who is the appellee in the case.
In a 2008 vote, students supported reinstatement of the Chief as the official UI symbol by a sizable margin — 7,718 to 2,052.
The senate itself has not taken an official stance on the Chief, Pileski said.
The student senate originally agreed to co-sponsor the contest in December 2011 in a resolution sponsored by Pileski, who was president at the time.
He said there were no complaints about that decision initially, even from Students for Chief Illiniwek, a group that supports the former UI symbol.
But the contest was delayed last year when a number of the Campus Spirit Revival members graduated early, and new senate members this academic year raised questions about the affiliation.
"It really comes down to people who support the Chief and people who want to see a new mascot," Paarlberg said. "The people who support the Chief don't want to see a new symbol come in."
Pileski, who doesn't consider himself pro- or anti-Chief, said he had supported the contest because he felt it would be good for the campus to have a new symbol.
"As a university community, it was setting a nice tone. I don't deny that Chief Illiniwek is a powerful thing that is a part of our history ... but it shouldn't allow us to not think of the future and moving forward," he said. "To me, it wasn't about replacing as enhancing the University of Illinois experience."
He doesn't feel the Chief should be "shunned," but "at the same time we are limited in how we can use it."
The designs, not surprisingly, have received plentiful comments, pro and con. And the Facebook page has drawn a fierce debate about the Chief itself, reminiscent of the nearly two-decade fight over the issue before the Chief's retirement in 2007.
A rival Facebook page, "Stop Campus Spirit Revival," was also created in response to the effort. "We are the resistance!" it proclaims.
Pileski said he's not surprised that the debate hasn't ended, as student opinion is still divided.
"A lot of people are second- and third-generation Illinois students and so they feel very strongly about the Chief," he said. "Others are very aware of social issues, and they are uncomfortable with the implications of the previous Chief mascot.
"I feel like we're still having the same arguments we were having six years ago in some ways," he said, "And that's somewhat discouraging to me."