According To Emails, UND President Was Expecting To Retire Sioux Nickname Even Before NCAA Meeting
University of North Dakota President Robert O. Kelley received preliminary instruction from the State Board of Higher Education, prior to an ill-fated meeting with the NCAA in Indianapolis on August 12, 2011; that the Fighting Sioux Name and Logo would be retired shortly after that meeting.
The meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert and Executive Vice President Bernard Franklin was first scheduled for April 22, 2011. It was intended to determine what agreement could be reached between the NCAA, North Dakota state leadership, and higher ed officials on the long-standing legal dispute over the Fighting Sioux name and logo in light of the passage of the law protecting the Fighting Sioux name and logo from retirement. The NCAA cancelled the meeting abruptly on April 15, 2011 when they learned they may have to face the public due to North Dakota’s Open Meeting Laws being applied because of the presence of state leaders. It was rescheduled to occur on July 25, 2011, but when the late Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem’s funeral was scheduled for that day, the meeting was pushed to August 12, 2011.
The information on the premature decision to retire the name and logo was based on an email conversation between Kelley and Portland State University President Wim Wiewel, which SAB received from a frequent contributor to the SiouxSports.com blog. Portland State is a member of the Big Sky Conference, similar to UND. Kelley and Wiewel also appear to have collaborated in the past on academic work and may have established a personal relationship when they were both employed with the University of Illinois-Chicago.
In his email, Kelley informed Wiewel that the meeting with the NCAA involving Governor Jack Dalrymple, House Majority Leader Al Carlson, State Senator David Hogue, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, State Board of Higher Ed President Grant Shaft, and Ralph Engelstad Arena Director Jody Hodgson would “… draw this discussion (on the Fighting Sioux issue) to, what I hope will be, closure.”
What is disturbing, however, is when Kelley went on to say “Following the Friday meeting in Indianapolis, I’m told that the state board will direct me, again, to retire the Sioux name and logo.” Yet, such direction from the State Board (most likely Shaft himself) is in direct conflict with the previous commitment made by Shaft to Carlson in late June that the “BHE (Board of Higher Education) is fully committed to supporting the most persuasive argument to the NCAA for amending its policy to accommodate UND”. It also opens the door to the potential of collaboration on meeting outcomes prior to the event itself.
Kelley had fallen under criticism from Carlson in late June 2011 for “poisoning the well” by publicly calling for retirement of the Fighting Sioux name and logo ahead of the NCAA meeting. Shaft conceded in his June 22, 2011 email to Carlson that Kelley’s comments “were not well put”, and that “To be clear, 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.”
Based on Kelley’s email to Wiewel, it is apparent that Shaft and the State Board may not have followed through on these earlier sentiments. These actions also contrast with statements by Shaft made a day prior to the NCAA meeting on the Scott Hennen Show. While never stating he expected the NCAA to completely change their positions on the Fighting Sioux name and logo, he did express that he felt positive about the meeting and did not see any specific outcomes to be a foregone conclusion. He went on to say “I totally disagree with people who see this (meeting with the NCAA) as a waste of time”. He also commented that the delegation was taking the meeting seriously, and were well organized in their presentation plan.
The postmortem interview with the same talk show host on August 16, 2011 paints a picture of strong presentations made by the state delegation leaving Shaft “optimistic”. This optimism supposedly lasted until NCAA official Emmert and Franklin reportedly refused to budge on the NCAA Native American imagery, mascot, and name policy as it pertained to UND; and the 2007 lawsuit settlement agreement between the school and the association.
What the NCAA did offer at the meeting was to issue a public letter regarding UND in part offering to write the Big Sky Conference asking them to not consider their sanctions (which went into effect on August 15, 2011) in approving UND’s conference affiliation (interesting in light of SAB articles on December 27, 2011, December 29, 2011, and January 2, 2012 which address the fact that UND has been a full fledged Big Sky member since October 29, 2010). This was all, according to Shaft, “… contingent upon the legislative branch, the executive branch and the university system demonstrating that we were diligently moving towards that transition (away from the Fighting Sioux name and logo) in November.”
Shaft also contended in the August 16, 2011 Hennen Show interview that the direction issued by the State Board to UND on August 15, 2011 to restart the retirement of the Fighting Sioux Name and Logo was the Board’s way of making good on the agreement struck with the NCAA at the August 12, 2011 meeting. In light of the Kelley-Wiewel email detailed in this story, however, this directive raises the following questions:
1. Was the State Board direction in fact premeditated, and was it part of arrangements made previous to the meeting between the State Board, UND, and the NCAA?
2. Were the State Board pre-meeting actions in violation of the Fighting Sioux Law on the books at the time?
3. Did the State Board, through these actions, undermine the efforts of the Governor, Rep Carlson, and Sen Hogue; who did the majority of work making the case to the NCAA to grant an exception to their policy for UND?
4. Was there collaboration between the State Board, UND, and the NCAA to perpetuate the Big Sky Conference affiliation myth, and put that myth in play in with the NCAA letter so it could fully play out in time to influence the legislature at the November Special Session?
5. Did Grant Shaft use the media to portray a perception of State Board activities preceding the NCAA meeting which did not match reality?
6. In short, did Shaft, the State Board, and UND undermine the NCAA meeting before it ever happened? Was it a scripted event to give the appearance to try and save the name and logo?
If answers to any of the above are yes, these actions appear to go against the word given from the State Board to the House Majority Leader that “…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.” If the answers to the above are yes, it is time for major reforms in higher education in North Dakota.Al Carlson, big sky conference, Doug Fullerton, fighting sioux, Fighting Sioux Nickname, Grant Shaft, ncaa, North Dakota News, Portland State University, PSU, robert kelley, SBHE, state board of higher education, state legislature, UND, University of North Dakota, wim wiewel