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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published June 29 2011

Shaft says higher ed board committed to Fighting Sioux nickname

GRAND FORKS – Grant Shaft, the state Board of Higher Education’s point man on the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname issue, apparently has pulled the reins in some on UND President Robert Kelley when it comes to declaring what should happen next.

Kelley drew both cheers and jeers last week when he appeared to call for repeal of the law enacted by the 2011 Legislature directing UND to retain its historic nickname and Indian-head logo despite pressure from the NCAA.

“The university is in an impossible position be­cause of a law that puts us out on a cliff,” Kelley told the Grand Forks Herald on June 20. “We’re coming down to the end game now. I feel acutely that my voice needs to be heard for the university.”

In the interview, Kelley was asked whether he was saying he wants the Legislature to repeal the law.

“Yes,” he said.

But in an email to Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, sent shortly after Kelley spoke to the Herald and several other media organizations about the need for UND to “move on,” Shaft insisted that the state board “is fully committed to supporting the most persuasive argument to the NCAA for amending its policy to accommodate UND.”

Shaft’s email was obtained by the Internet site plainsdaily.com and posted Tuesday.

“On several occasions I have made it clear to Bob Kelley that that is the position of the (board) and if the NCAA grants relief, the (board) will fully support retention of the name and logo,” Shaft wrote, according to the website. “His comments on the radio were not well put, and I spoke to him about that.”

Shaft could not be reached Tuesday night to confirm the contents of the email.

In it, Shaft says Kelley told him “that his belief that we need to move on is intended only in the event the NCAA does not grant relief.”

Most people would agree with that position, Shaft told Carlson, but “that discussion should take place only in the event we don’t have success with the NCAA, and not before.”

Shaft and Kelley have been communicating with NCAA officials to arrange a meeting in late July at which the state’s political, legal and higher education officials could explain, face to face, why they believe the Fighting Sioux name and symbols honor rather than abuse American Indians and are supported by a majority of North Dakotans, including many American Indians.

The NCAA has offered two dates, July 22 and 25, when they could receive a North Dakota delegation in Indianapolis. Shaft has been checking those dates with various state and UND officials.

In his email, Shaft said he met after Kelley made his public statements with the president, Athletic Director Brian Faison, the Alumni Association’s Tim O’Keefe and Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson “and gave the same directive to Bob with them present.”

“To be clear,” Shaft wrote to Carlson, “there have been and will be NO efforts on the part of this board or UND to diminish the ability of all constituents to make the best argument possible for retention of the name and logo.”

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald