A petition drive has been launched by Illini fans worried that the University of Illinois may be phasing out the "Three-in-One" marching band medley.
UI officials have announced no plans to that effect, and the Marching Illini and pep bands continue to play the music at sporting events.
But emails uncovered by a UI student through the Freedom of Information Act, recent additions to the Illini basketball halftime show, and calls by some faculty to eliminate or replace the music have added fuel to a longstanding fire.
Marching Illini band Director Barry Houser said he knows of no plans to phase out the "Three-in-One."
"I have not received anything from any office saying that we stop playing the 'Three-in-One,'" Houser said.
"We continue to play it at all events. I believe it's something that's a very strong part of our university tradition. That's where we are."
However, students and faculty have asked top campus administrators to change the music in recent months, including at a faculty-student senate meeting in early December.
In July, Robert Warrior, director of the American Indian Studies program, wrote to then-interim Chancellor Robert Easter, urging him to end the "Indian-themed music" played at halftime of athletic events. He said playing the music serves no purpose except to breed "resentment" from those who disagreed with Chief Illiniwek's retirement and contributes to a negative campus climate for American Indian students, faculty and staff.
"Every time the band plays that music, you are highlighting the institution's ugly past and pushing the campus backward," Warrior wrote on behalf of other faculty in the unit. "At some point, as has been the case at every institution that has put an end to a Native-themed mascot, music and other remnants of the previous era are set aside in favor of the future."
Warrior also said School of Music Director Karl Kramer told him he and his faculty were "prepared to replace the current music with a march written by John Phillip Sousa as soon as the chancellor tells him to do so."
Houser said the only discussions he's been involved in was the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics' decision to have sports teams lead the singing of "Hail to the Orange" as part of the "Three-in-One" at halftime of UI basketball and football games.
Houser pointed out that part of the "Three-in-One" music — which includes "March of the Illini" and the instrumental for the erstwhile dance — was adopted by the university before the creation of Chief Illiniwek.
"All of that predated the introduction of the first Chief dance here at the University of Illinois," said Houser, a UI graduate who has studied the band's traditions and history.
"Those three songs were composed specifically for the University of Illinois and the band program here. That's a strong piece of tradition."
Opponents say the music has been linked to Chief for decades through the Chief's former halftime dance. Fans still stand and clap as they did when the Chief was around.
Last spring, more than 500 students and others signed an online petition demanding the UI stop using the name "Fighting Illini" and the "Three-in-One" music and create "a new halftime show that does not offer an opportunity for the current, unofficial 'chief' to perform in the stands." It also urged the campus to take proactive measures to create a new mascot to help unify the campus.
Two professors on Dec. 5 urged Chancellor Phyllis Wise to replace the "Three-in-One" because of its association with the Chief.
"Let's say for 75 years, Illinois had a tradition of degrading women and what went along with that was a set of tunes or music. What if the music kept playing, and half of the audience went along with it? I think that would be upsetting to many of us," argued Mary Mallory, professor of library science.
She said trustees gave former Chancellor Richard Herman authority on what to do with other traditions when the Chief was retired in 2007, but he declined to end the "Three-in-One."
Mallory, a faculty representative on the UI athletic board, said she loves college athletics, but "there is wonderful music that could be played" instead.
LeAnne Howe, professor of English and American Indian Studies, called the music "extremely offensive."
"This is the 21st century. It is time for us to move on," she said.
Wise, who took office Oct. 1, told faculty she is still learning "about all of the relationships between the significance of the Chief and the music."
She said generally a school should not be tied to a tradition "if it's difficult for parts of our community."
She said the music has evolved gradually over the UI's history, and "it would not surprise me if additional evolution is going on."
A statement from campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler added: "The 'Three-in-One' music has not changed recently, but the director of the School of Music says it has undergone several changes in the past 75 years, that such evolution is normal and that adaptations are likely to continue in the future."
Kaler also said Warrior's letter and emails relating to the changes in the halftime show were unrelated but cropped up together in the FOIA request.
"Those are two different topics," she said.
An online petition  asking the chancellor to "stop changes to the 3 in 1 medley" had more than 7,300 signatures as of Dec. 14.
Joseph Rank of Urbana wrote: "Chancellor, this is a slippery slope. Dictating what a university performing arts or visual arts class (yes, the Marching Illini is a class offered for academic credit) may not perform or produce is an affront to academic freedom. ... We can never establish enough policies and procedures to guarantee no faculty or staff member or student won't be offended by what they see or hear. Shall we proscribe Wagner works because he was Hitler's favorite composer? Stephen Foster? Christian sacred music? Where will it stop?"
UI alumnus Jim Frame, an avowed Chief supporter, said Wise and UI President Michael Hogan don't have a history at the UI and don't understand the tradition behind the "Three-in-One" music. The Marching Illini was the first band to do marching formations and consistently ranks among the nation's best, Frame said.
"First you take away the Chief. Then you start to nitpick and remove music, and some of the marching formations associated with that music. Pretty soon you have nothing. The tradition is all gone. Most schools don't have what we have," he said.
This story appeared in print on Dec. 11.