GRAND FORK, ND - Fifteen former presidents of the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and UND Foundation boards have signed a letter saying the school’s Fighting Sioux nickname should be retired before the dispute causes serious problems for the school, according to a News From Indian Country report.
The Legislature this year passed a bill requiring UND to keep the nickname even though the school had already begun efforts to retire it.
The NCAA says the moniker is offensive to American Indians and that UND will face sanctions if it remains, including being unable to host NCAA tournaments. UND also is likely to have problems joining the Big Sky Conference as part of its move to NCAA Division I competition.
“Most, but not all of us, would have wished to see the nickname continue,” the alumni said in the letter written by David Iverson of Seattle, a 1970 UND graduate. “But we have all reached the conclusion that to continue to fight the NCAA over this matter is counter-productive for the present and future of UND.”
The name should be retired because “not doing so would have catastrophic results for our school. This is a real crossroads for the future of our institution,” they said in the letter sent this week to the state Board of Higher Education, the Legislature, and the governor and attorney general, according to The Grand Forks Herald.
The signers of the letter said they “are concerned about the corrosive effect this situation has had on the leadership of the school, requiring extraordinary amounts of time and energy that should be going to the primary purpose of providing a quality education.”
“Today’s students are being shortchanged,” the letter said.
President Robert Kelley said last week that the school has to move beyond the nickname dispute. He urged the Legislature to vote to overturn its bill when lawmakers meet in November to redraw legislative districts.
James Brosseau, a Grand Forks doctor who signed the letter, said many of them supported what the Legislature did but believe it is impractical for the school to keep the nickname.
“I think the legislators and everybody acted in good faith,” he said. “But I think we’ve reached the point where we’re not going to budge the NCAA, and now we have to support President Kelley.”
State and higher education leaders plan to meet with the NCAA on July 25 in Indianapolis to see if UND can avoid being penalized if it keeps the nickname, though University System Chancellor William Goetz said that he questioned the value of the meeting.