You know, if we can dump the University of Illinois Board of Trustees
well-connected applicants into the school, maybe we can
get back our beloved Chief Illiniwek.
Seriously. Most of the current trustees are the same people who two
years ago caved in to political correctness and the NCAA by banning the
popular chief. Now two of the trustees have resigned over a scandal
involving admissions cheating.
Put the two together and maybe, by some slim chance, we could wind
up with a new board that would tell the buttinskis at the NCAA to mind
their own business and bring back the chief.
Yeah, I know reopening
this touchy issue is risky; it took a dozen years for the university to
be browbeaten into abandoning the 80-year-old symbol, and we’re
supposed to accept the decision forever and ever. But I believe that if
you took a poll, you’d find a lot of people in Illinois, especially
those who attended the university at the Urbana-Champaign campus, still
are resentful of the execution of Illiniwek and want him resurrected.
But is it worth stirring up all the old animosities? Yes, it is; as
they say, it’s a matter of principle. And what principle would that be?
I could name several. Autonomy and the right of public institutions to
be free of unreasonable pressure to conform to the wishes of a tiny
minority of overly sensitive opportunists who hunt down every
infraction of their “thou-shalt-not-offend” code of conduct. Illiniwek
has a meaning that is far from disrespectful. Indians in the
confederation of tribes in this region used the word to describe
themselves as “we are the complete man” — the strong, intellectual and
spiritual man. Also throw in brave, truthful and dignified. When the
chief sprang onto the field, those were the meanings that were taken;
he wasn’t a cartoon or an object of ridicule.
Others who know us better than we know ourselves said support of the
chief was racially motivated, reflecting a covert attempt to reduce
Native Americans to ridiculous caricatures because, I suppose, we had
nothing else better to do. We’re so dull-witted and racist that we
don’t even realize that we are dull-witted and racist. So, the NCAA had
to swoop in and threaten the school’s intercollegiate athletic program
if we didn’t dump the chief.
The sentiment against the chief was typified then by a letter to the
editor that asked: If a Tribune columnist’s (not me) relatives were
“robbed, tortured and killed, and then the descendants of the
perpetrators of the crimes decided to dress up like those victimized
relatives in order to ‘honor’ them at sporting events, would [the
columnist] still shrug in incomprehension?”
Spare me. Millions of my Irish antecedents were robbed, tortured and
killed by the English, and it would not offend me to have someone dress
up as one of the “victims” in tribute to their courage, honesty,
intelligence and other virtues. Even that idiotic “Fighting Irish”
mascot at Notre Dame doesn’t bother me, and certainly not to the extent
that I’d want to cashier it.
The U. of I. Board of Trustees tried to find a “consensus” on the chief
that would satisfy all, but when no consensus could be reached because
the vast majority of people favored retaining the chief, the board’s
hand was forced. Either stand up to the NCAA by challenging its
outrageous demands in court or give in.
The board gave in. Except for trustee David Dorris, whose plea at a
2007 board meeting to legally challenge the NCAA’s authority to impose
its penalties was swamped under a tsunami of cowardice. The minutes of
the meeting show only a voice vote was taken (not a recorded vote for
such a controversial issue?); newspaper accounts said Dorris’ dissent
was the only vote against the chief’s death penalty. So, Dorris can
stay. The rest of them have to go, those who clouted pals of
politicians and other influence peddlers into the school, and those who
betrayed decades of the school’s traditions by dumping the chief.
The prospects of this happening, of course, are virtually nil because
uberliberal Gov. Pat Quinn, who would name the replacements, would
probably never pick anyone who would bring back the chief. Years ago
the board of trustees was elected, which reformers said made trustees
nothing more than political pawns and connivers. So, now that the board
is appointed, it is loaded with political pawns and connivers, as well
as politically correct milksops. And so it goes in the state of
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune