CHAMPAIGN — By a nearly 4-to-1 margin, University of Illinois students supported Chief Illiniwek in a recent referendum.
The release of the results was prompted by a student judicial group that reviewed the "constitutionality" of the University of Illinois Student Senate's actions surrounding Chief Illiniwek. That decision is expected within a month.
On Wednesday, students delivered oral arguments before a moot court at the College of Law. On one side is a group of students who object to student senate sponsorship of a mascot design contest. And on the other side are students who said the contest was not an official call for a new mascot, but a simple poll. Moreover, they argued, a 2008 student referendum that showed support for Chief Illiniwek was nonbinding. The UI Board of Trustees voted to retire the Chief in 2007 after decades of debate on the subject.
Last week, the Campus Student Election Commission was ordered by the student moot court not to release the results of yet another referendum that polled students' support for Chief Illiniwek. The court imposed an injunction on the results until after the hearings were held. Those results were released just after Wednesday's hearing.
In response to the question, "Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," 9,003 students marked 'yes' and 2,517 students voted no, according to the commission.
"The voice of the student body has spoken: they are pro-Chief Illiniwek," said Josh Good, a UI student and administrator of the group "Stop Campus Spirit Revival." His group opposed Campus Spirit Revival's contest soliciting entries for a new mascot logo and brought the case to moot court.
In 2011, the student senate, a quasi-legislative body of elected students, agreed to co-sponsor an art contest for a new mascot sponsored by Campus Spirit Revival. The resolution was sponsored by David Pileski, who was student body president at the time. Pileski is now the student trustee representing the Urbana campus.
The contest, which invited students to submit ideas and logos, didn't take place until this school year. Images submitted evoked Abraham Lincoln, owls, eagles, ears of corn and more. The winner of the most votes has not been released.
"It's important to move on. We need to get over this as soon as possible," Pileski said.
It's unclear when exactly the student court will release a statement or decision, but several students said they believed it would occur within a few weeks or a month. Pileski said this is the first time the moot court has met following its creation almost a decade ago.
"We're all new to this process," he said.
Student judges on the moot court declined to comment after the hearing; a faculty adviser also refused to discuss the case.
UI administrators have said the issue is a student one. However, Chancellor Phyllis Wise, in a letter to students prior to the referendum, said, "there is really no way to go backwards."
"While many have memories of the Chief and numerous other past campus traditions, it is important to understand the distinction between recognizing our history and embracing our future. I feel we must continue to move forward together as a family. ... When we are distracted, divided, or lose focus on our ambitious future, we create additional challenges in our constant endeavor to continue to be one of the finest public research universities on the globe," she wrote.