Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Letter from Chairman BOT (USA TODAY)



NCAA's 'incendiary rhetoric' damages debate on mascots

NCAA President Myles Brand describes the NCAA Executive Committee's incendiary rhetoric on the issue of Native American imagery as a "teachable moment." Surely, there are better ways of "initiating discussion" than to decree that the traditions of 18 member institutions are "hostile and abusive" ("NCAA takes high road with ban of offensive mascots," The Forum, Aug. 11).

The committee's inflammatory rhetoric doesn't create a teachable moment. Instead, it retards meaningful discussion.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we are engaged in a dialogue regarding our 80-year-old Chief Illiniwek tradition. For years, the debate was hamstrung by the kind of harsh rhetoric the NCAA espoused. It only entrenched opinions and left us with a Hobson's choice. Eighteen months ago, we decided to tack away from the extremists on both sides and set a goal of reaching a consensus solution. What we found since then is the opportunity for real, substantive and constructive dialogue.

Our goal is a solution that embraces heritage and culture through the resources and reach of a major university, not one that pretends American Indians never thrived and created a rich history in our state. It's noteworthy that the NCAA's edict directly contradicts a 1995 finding by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which concluded that Chief Illiniwek's existence didn't constitute a "racially hostile environment."

Our focus also has been on the Chief Illiniwek tradition, not on "Illini" or "Fighting Illini." Coined by our student newspaper 52 years before the Chief Illiniwek tradition was established, "Illini" is merely a moniker derived from our state's name. "Fighting Illini" dates to 1921 and the campaign to build Memorial Stadium in honor of students and alumni who fought and died in World War I.

Mr. Brand's commentary missed the point. The likely and ironic consequence of the NCAA's provocative rhetoric will be a giant step backward in the debate, re-engagement of harsh and disingenuous rhetoric, and the loss of common ground to the armies of divisiveness.

Lawrence C. Eppley, Chair of the Board of Trustees, University of Illinois, Palatine, Ill.


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