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Published November 22 2009

Forum editorial: Sideshow delays the inevitable

North Dakota’s attorney general is right to ask a court to dismiss a lawsuit against the state Board of Higher Education regarding the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname. Nickname supporters from the Spirit Lake reservation near Devils Lake filed suit to prevent the board from acting on the logo before a Nov. 30, 2010, deadline, which was set by the NCAA.

AG Wayne Stenehjem said he will seek dismissal of District Judge Michael G. Sturdevant’s temporary retraining order, which prevents the board from retiring the nickname/logo prior to the NCAA deadline. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 9 in Devils Lake.

Stenehjem met last week in closed session with the board. He said after the meeting that state constitutional matters are at stake in the logo injunction. He said his argument will focus on whether the Spirit Lake group has standing to determine the ultimate fate of the nickname, and whether anyone but the state board has the authority to make decisions concerning operation of state universities.

Stenehjem’s argument goes straight to the heart of the matter. No matter how one feels about the UND logo (the AG himself is a supporter), the tribal group’s lawsuit appears to be an attempt to make a decision that is not theirs to make. The ad hoc group represents itself, which brings into question its standing to even bring such a lawsuit. The state constitution clearly gives responsibility for university matters to the state board. The board certainly can seek advice and take into consideration arguments for and against the logo from anyone and everyone. But when it comes time to make a binding decision, the board has the constitutional mandate. Not the tribes, not the UND faculty, not generous alumni, not stiff-necked logo supporters associated with the Engelstad Arena. The higher ed board will make the call.

Futhermore, the argument from the tribal group’s lawyer and others who stubbornly cling to a nickname/logo that should have been retired months ago, is that the NCAA deadline is Nov. 30, 2010, therefore tribes and others should be given until then to determine how they feel about the logo. But the NCAA did not say everyone involved in the dispute should wait until the eleventh hour. If the higher ed board is satisfied the issue has been debated as thoroughly as possible (it has), there is nothing in the NCAA document that prevents making a final decision before Nov. 30, 2010.

Stenehjem seems to be on firm legal ground. The temporary injunction is an unfortunate sideshow in a saga that should have been ended by now.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.