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Schools have advice if UND changes name

If the University of North Dakota decides to change its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the campus will find plenty of advice from other universities that already have faced the challenge.

If the University of North Dakota decides to change its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, the campus will find plenty of advice from other universities that already have faced the challenge.

The University of Louisiana-Monroe and Miami University in Ohio are two schools that have, in recent times, retired an American Indian nickname.

Dickinson (N.D.) State University endured a logo change in 1973.

Known as Dickinson State College until 1987, the school changed its nickname from Savages to Blue Hawks after Indian groups outside of campus complained about its negative definition, former school president R.C. Gillund said.

Changing the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo is one option UND officials have in light of a NCAA final ruling last week that the nickname and logo are hostile and abusive.


The school will only be invited to participate in NCAA post-season competition if it elects to do so without American Indian references on uniforms and associated athletic program activities. It also means it won't be allowed to host NCAA championships.

The school has a transition period until 2007-08 to make changes to uniforms.

Lessons learned

Like UND, the University of Louisiana-Monroe made the list of 18 schools the NCAA ruled were subject to restrictions on the use of American Indian mascots, names and imagery at championships.

The university tried to change the NCAA's opinion and had a tribe that supported the use of the school's Indians mascot and logo, said Kevin Stuart, the school's director of marketing.

However, the NCAA denied the school's request, stating in a December letter that no American Indian tribe "owns" the word "Indians."

A month of discussions and open forums followed at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, and a mascot committee ultimately agreed it was best for the school of about 9,000 students to change its mascot.

The committee, appointed by the university president, was comprised of students, faculty, alumni and donors.


Like at UND, many were not in favor of changing the nickname, Stuart said. But the public appreciated the openness and thoroughness of the university when making the change.

"We think we did it about as well as we could have. It's not easy for anyone," Stuart said. "There's going to be nothing anyone can do to make it go over well with them (opponents) as far as having to change."

An expanded, 30-member mascot committee opened the name-changing process to the public and allowed one month for people to nominate mascots via the university's Web site. More than 12,000 suggestions were received - 650 that weren't duplicates, Stuart said.

The campus also enlisted advice from a design firm and a collegiate licensing company.

Once the committee narrowed the 650 nominations to a list of semifinalists, it allowed the public to vote online. To prevent "ballot box stuffing," each voter had to fill out an online form and receive a log-in and password to participate, Stuart said.

In the end, the top vote-getter - the Warhawks, a reference to an area general who flew a Warhawk fighter plane - was chosen as the school's mascot.

The campus is now in the arts design phase and creating its new brand, Stuart said.

"Overall, we kept the public very well informed," he said of the mascot-changing process. "If anything, we pushed our public to the brink of fatigue, but I would rather have them tired of reading about it than not know enough or understand it and then be angry with the outcome."


With the mascot name in place, the school appointed an implementation committee to make necessary changes across campus. This group included a few members from the mascot committee and staff members, Stuart said.

Visible areas

The NCAA policy only affects the field of play. It doesn't mandate that a university discontinue the use of its mascots, nicknames or imagery. Therefore, the first step was deciding how extensive the new mascot implementation would be, Stuart said.

"The decision was that we need to get behind the new mascot fully and completely,'' he said.

To do the "exhaustive implementation," the committee surveyed the campus to determine what needed to be changed. The committee established three categories of priorities based on visibility, he said.

"Because of course, we have to be realistic. We'd love to come in here with a ton of money and do it all at once, but that's not terribly realistic," Stuart said.

The first category focused on areas that most visibly showed the old mascot and logo to those with minimal contact with the university: the Web site, banners and the football stadium elevator shaft, for example.

The second category was areas visible to those with frequent contact with the university, such as mascots or logos in classrooms or campus buildings.


The third category was internal, like the athletic logo on door keys.

The university has not yet created a budget for how much the mascot-changing process will cost, Stuart said. However, he said the costs aren't as staggering as some may think.

"Some things change regularly anyway,'' he said, pointing to items like uniforms and stationery.

Still, the university is exploring ways to defray costs.

"Part of it will be private dollars, part of it will be squeezing blood from the turnip, just trying to find a few dollars here and there in the budget to do it as best we can,'' he said.

The school also hopes proceeds from sales of new merchandise will help. Student fees will not be increased, Stuart said.

A tough task

Meanwhile, Miami University in Ohio is nearing 10 years since it lost support from the Miami tribe to use the school nickname, "Redskins."


The board of trustees voted in fall 1996 to change the name, said Richard Little, senior director of university communications.

A committee chaired by a former, well-respected university president was formed to address what nickname should be chosen for the school of about 16,000 students. A public relations firm and an alumnus who owned a naming company also assisted.

The RedHawks name was chosen in 1997 to maintain the school color red and to honor the red-tailed hawks in the area. A New York sports marketing firm was hired to develop the new logo.

The campus previously limited the use of its former Indian head logo - due to the controversy surrounding it - which eased the process of switching to the new one.

The university spent about $100,000 out of its budget to make all of its changes during the one-year transition, Little said.

Although the school's process sounds easy, he said it is a tough task. One trustee resigned after being upset about the change.

That's why it's important to work with outside marketing professionals and choose something that will be widely accepted by the community, he said.

Having been through the process, Stuart of the University of Louisiana-Monroe said he tells people loyal to a school mascot to remember where their real loyalties lie.


"The reason we're so fiercely loyal to a mascot is because it represents our university. It's the university that we care about ... to just keep that perspective even if we don't like change."

Dickinson State's nickname change was a hassle and unpleasant, Gillund said.

American Indian groups outside of campus said the name was offensive, although most American Indians attending the college stayed away from the issue, he said.

"The current student body wasn't that concerned at the time," said Gillund, who was school president from 1969 to 1977 and is a UND graduate. "It was some of the alumni, not all. Some were supportive. It was just a hassle all the time, every day."

The school's nickname debate went on for years before Gillund recommended to the State Board of Higher Education that it be dropped.

American Indian groups actually wanted to keep the logo but drop the name Savages, Gillund said.

"I told them it's either all or nothing," he said. "There were more things to worry about than the name of an athletic team."

Gillund said he supports UND's fight to keep its nickname and is upset the NCAA got involved.

In fact, Gillund still has regrets for changing Dickinson State's logo more than 30 years ago. He said he still receives criticism about the decision today.

"I feel sorry for the president of (UND). He's the one that takes the heat," Gillund said. "I could've hung on to (Savages), but it wasn't worth the hassle. Savages had some implications I didn't like."

Forum reporter Joe Whetham contributed to this story

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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