The latest chapter in the University of North Dakota nickname saga began Monday in the form of a bill that, if approved, would extend a moratorium on implementing a new nickname for another two years.
Members of the House Education Committee took testimony on House Bill 1155, which would extend a UND nickname moratorium that expired at the beginning of the year until July 2017.
All were in agreement that it’s time to move forward from the years-long debate over the issue; questions remain for implementing a timeline.
Lead HB1155 sponsor Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, said an extension of the moratorium would provide the university time to develop a new nickname.
“I’m approaching this issue amid a lot of emotion by trying to focus on compromise,” Louser said. “No one person is capable of deciding when it’s time to move on. For many, the time is not now.”
The decades-old and highly emotional debate over UND's nickname heated up in 2005, when the NCAA named 19 schools with American Indian nicknames, logos and mascots that association deemed to be "hostile and abusive." The Fighting Sioux logo originally was retired in 2010, after supporters failed to meet an NCAA settlement requirement that called for approval from the state's two namesake Sioux tribes.
State lawmakers then passed a law requiring UND to use the logo, but it was repealed in 2011 after the NCAA refused to budge on the threat of sanctions.
Measure 4 was then passed with the support of more than 67 percent of voters in the June 2012 primary election. Passage of Measure 4 allowed UND to retire the nickname and logo. The State Board of Higher Education and UND also were barred from allowing the implementation of a new nickname or logo before Jan. 1, 2015.
A committee was formed last fall to develop the process of picking a new nickname and logo. A second committee is expected to be formed to take the work of the first committee and see it through to completion.
Louser said UND hasn’t suffered in terms of athletic conference affiliation or loss of accreditation of academic programs.
UND president Robert Kelley said he expects the recommendations from the first committee to arrive on his desk by the end of the month.
“House Bill 1155 is unnecessary and does not help the University of North Dakota move on,” Kelley said. “Current students want to move on. They want to share in the popular identity of their university. Student athletes want a rallying point for which they can compete and be proud.”
Kelley said UND has seen a decline in revenue for merchandise, but didn’t have specific figures on hand to share.
He said the committee process should be allowed to continue at its own pace without legislative interference. Kelley said to finally complete the process would end any negative impact on UND’s reputation and ability to promote itself in the long run.
“We can’t continue to be a 'Fighting Question Mark' … we have to move on,” Kelley said.
Chuck Horter, a member of the UND nickname committee, said the committee needs to be allowed to complete its work. He said the message during the committee’s round of public input meetings was clear.
“The message is ‘get on with it.’ People are tired of this,” Horter said.
Committee chairman Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said a committee recommendation on HB1155 may come as soon as the end of the week. Other sponsors of HB1155 are Reps. Rich S. Becker, R-Grand Forks and Mike Schatz, R-New England and Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson.