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Marc De Celle, Fargo, Published May 30 2012

Discovering who is the true bully in UND nickname case

As a casual observer of local news, I had the impression the NCAA was bullying the University of North Dakota into dropping the Fighting Sioux nickname. I hate bullying of any kind, so I was inclined to want to vote to uphold the nickname in the upcoming June election.

Then I had a conversation with a long-standing UND faculty member – who I’ll call the “Professor,” for reasons I’ll explain shortly. “Actually, Marc,” he explained, “there was a survey done in 2000, long before the NCAA got involved, that showed most UND faculty wanted to change the nickname then.”

“Really?” I told him I’d like to see it.

The next day, I received an email with an attachment: Commission to Study Fighting Sioux Athletic Team Nickname. It was a survey conducted in 2000 by the Social Science Research Institute at UND, and it was exhaustive: Over 3,000 surveys on alumni, faculty, employees and students of UND.

The key statement: “UND should abide by Sioux’ tribal councils’ requests and change the athletic teams’ nickname,” with which 57 percent of UND faculty agreed, with only 32 percent disagreeing – almost a 2-to-1 margin. That was 12 years ago, long before the NCAA got involved – just as the Professor had told me.

I wrote the Professor, asking if he thought the current climate on campus was still favorable to a name change.

“Definitely so,” he responded. To back this up, he sent me a copy of an article reporter Chuck Haga published on Feb. 7 of last year in the Grand Forks Herald, citing a 44-1 vote by the UND Senate opposing all three Fighting Sioux nickname bills that were then under consideration by the North Dakota Legislature. Each of these measures, in one fashion or another, forced UND to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname. The UND Senate had – almost unanimously – opposed this effort.

“Wow,” I thought to myself as the irony sank in. “And I thought the NCAA was bullying UND into dropping the nickname. In fact, it’s us North Dakotans who are bullying UND into holding on to it!”

But I still hadn’t learned the greatest irony of all. That only happened when I wrote the first draft of this op-ed and emailed it to the Professor. I’d quoted him by name.

“I’ve been consulting with Univ. Legal Counsel about the Corrupt Practices Act,” he wrote back, ominously. “… Although you’re not a reporter, and you asked for my opinion on the matter, and we discussed it over lunch off campus not on university time… We’ve all been counseled to keep our distance from the issue…” In short, I shouldn’t mention his name, or he could get in a lot of trouble.

So let me get this straight. Politicians and others who want to force UND to keep the old nickname can write bills and lobby for their side all they want – but the faculty and staff of the university, the very people who will have to live with the consequences of the nickname every working day of their lives indefinitely into the future, these people can’t even answer questions from citizens about the issue without risking censure?

That’s not bullying. That’s mega-bullying.

No more bullying. It’s very unDakotan. Vote “yes” on Measure 4, and allow the University of North Dakota to decide their own destiny.

De Celle, who lives in Fargo, wrote the book “How Fargo of You.”