Friday, April 22, 2005

New trustee: Illiniwek 'a distraction'

Excerpted from:

Friday, April 22, 2005
By Phil Davidson

Dorris wants to focus on issues

SPRINGFIELD -- The newest member of the University of Illinois board of trustees says the controversy surrounding Chief Illiniwek is "a distraction and a waste of time."

"I like to focus on what I consider the real problems," said David Dorris of LeRoy, who was unanimously confirmed for the trustee position by the state Senate on Thursday.

Dorris, a 1973 U of I law school graduate, joined the board of trustees in March after being named to the post by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His appointment generated criticism because Dorris, a 57-year-old trial lawyer, has contributed more than $80,000 to the governor's campaign fund.

Since assuming the duties of a trustee, Dorris has been bombarded with advocacy and lawsuits regarding the school's symbol.

Last month, the Illinois Native American Bar Association and two individuals, a U of I-Chicago student and a Champaign resident, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against the board of trustees. They claim use of the Indian symbol violates state constitutional rights of American Indians as well as board policies against racial discrimination.

Supporters of the chief, a group as fervent as their counterparts, say the symbol honors the people who lived in this area before it became a state.

Dorris said he simply cannot understand the passion of either side.

If the chief is causing any harm to minorities, it should be eliminated, he said. That same reasoning goes if it's causing any harm to the university.

"I hate to see us talk about something that's not really going to change the world one way or another," Dorris said.

Though Dorris said he wouldn't feel one bit different if Chief Illiniwek were eliminated tomorrow, he does not want to see any other mascot as a replacement.

"I don't want to offend my good friends at Illinois State University, but I don't want to see a bird or a gopher or something else running up and down the sidelines," he said. "I guess symbolism is important to some people; not to me."

Blagojevich has declined to take a position on the debate over the mascot, saying the issue is for the trustees to decide.

Dorris' term runs through January 2011. He replaces trustee Jeff Gindorf, who did not seek reappointment when his term expired in January.

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