I resisted posting anything on this topic for as long as I could, but the lingering drone of the Fighting Sioux conversation has finally pushed me to write. Before I say anything, I want to confess that I am not an expert on this topic nor am I particularly engaged in the ongoing controversy regarding the Fighting Sioux logo. I don't have an ax to grind and while I am certainly a "liberal faculty member", I don't feel particularly pressed by the requirements of political correctness or any sort of liberal orthodoxy. In fact, I find both political correctness, in all of its awkward and poorly executed forms, and any kinds of orthodox to be pretty boring, onerous, and unproductive.
So, that being said, here are four of my views on this entire logo issue (for the official views of the University go here).
1. The Lack of Civility. The biggest issue from my perspective is that the logo debate has brought out the worst in people on both sides. The lack of civility and carefully considered conversations is disappointing. In fact, two colleagues over the past couple of weeks have said that they have banned discussions of the logo issue in their classes. Read the comments on any news article or blog (and I won't link to them from here) to see how rancorous both sides have become. Moreover, the positions are boring: one side blames everyone from the university administration to the NCAA to the Native Americans and the State Board of Higher Education, and the other side pontificates in a painfully condescending way. So, again, it's disappointing to see that a University community can't engage this topic in a more intellectually productive way. At present, the debate makes almost everyone look bad, and it seems to me that we are in a situation where the need for both sides to claim "victory" makes compromise and conversation increasingly impossible.
2. Identity is Messy. Anyone who has been on a university campus for more than 20 minutes over the past two decades should know by now that identity is a messy thing. This is important to remember as we try to resurrect some kind of civil discussion about the Fighting Sioux logo and name. There is no doubt that one side sees itself as honoring the Sioux by appropriating (in a respectful and perhaps even consensual way) parts of the Sioux identity. This is not particularly radical from a historical perspective and is not inherently bad. What strikes me as naive is the idea that if the university could get the Sioux to somehow vote to approve this process, then it would be in the clear. I am liberal enough to know that things aren't made right or moral or ethical, just because a group votes for something. The entire idea that the Sioux could vote as a body to allow another group to associate (respectfully, I am sure) with some aspect of their identity seems to be so deeply problematic that I can not understand how it is seriously regarded as a way forward. Fortunately, some groups within the Sioux seem to agree with this and have refused to put this matter to referendum. Identity is far too fluid and contested a thing to be defined by a democratic process alone. The idea that somehow this issue would be resolved if the Sioux voted to approve the logo and name is naive.
3. The NCAA. The NCAA is a voluntary organization that has the right to set certain rules for its member institutions. This just makes sense. If the member institutions do not like the rules, they can either change them or quit the organization. While I can understand why no one seriously talks about leaving the NCAA, it is a bit surprising that more people don't at least hold it up as a potential course of action. My solution would be to drop out of the NCAA and reform the hockey program as an AHL franchise. Playing professional hockey at UND would be revolutionary and, perhaps, offer a way forward to other schools who feel that the NCAA does not adequately represent and protect the distinct character of their programs. Moreover, it could be a real threat to the NCAA as an organization. Imagine if the elite football programs created a University Professional Football League (UPFL) which paid their student-athletes a competitive wage based on some kind of profit sharing model? Isn't this a more fun conversation than most surrounding the logo and name?
4. Colonialism. Spending time in Australia with my wife's family has led me to think about the place of Native American's in American society in a different way. I do worry that the eliminating the name and logo will serve as another means of hiding or (to be post-modern about it) erasing the awkward legacy of European (i.e. white) - Native American relations in the Northern Plains. By "returning" to the Sioux the complete control over their identity, image, likeness, and name, we run the risk of eliminating a point of contact that represented a shared moment in history which while contentious and certainly ugly would nevertheless provide the basis for an ongoing discussion. By problematizing the name and logo as a highly visible historical artifact, it forces us to consider complex and messy issues of identity, colonialism, authority, and race. These are not the kinds of things that interest the NCAA. In other words, I cannot think that the NCAA's motives are pure. Their interest is in protecting the commercial entity that is the NCAA and to do this, they will make policies that seek to eliminate controversies and create a product that is the most appealing to the broadest possible audience. We can, of course, argue that a popular, pristine, and neat NCAA product is a good way forward for all member institutions in that it will guarantee the greatest possible revenues from various, highly lucrative commercial ventures.
So, I've said my piece. I haven't been a member in the community here long enough to understand completely what is at stake or what the consequences of any particular course of action would be. I can, however, complain that the tenor of the current conversation makes thoughtful, creative, and perspective discussion of the situation pretty difficult. I still talk to my students about it, though, because I think it is our job to challenge our students (on both sides of the debate) to try to see things in a creative, innovative, and spirited way (oh, we're Future Ready too).