BISMARCK, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota should keep its "Fighting Sioux" nickname, the Board of Higher Education abruptly decided Thursday.
Its vote took the issue away from UND President Charles Kupchella as he was nearing a decision about whether to abolish the moniker.
The panel, which has eight voting members, decided unanimously to keep the nickname, which its critics say is insulting to American Indians. One board member, Richard Kunkel of Devils Lake, said getting rid of the name would trigger a strong backlash from its supporters.
"We would set our Native American relations back 25 years," Kunkel said.
Leigh Jeanotte, UND's director of Native American programs, said the name's continued use may spark a civil rights lawsuit against the university.
Board members said they acted Thursday to put the issue to rest before the beginning of the North Dakota Legislature, which convenes Jan. 9. During the session, board members intend to lobby legislators for increased authority over how the state university system's budget is spent.
"I guess I've come at this with an open mind, and in doing so, I believe we should keep the name," said board president William Isaacson of Stanley.
Kupchella had been preparing to decide in early January about whether to keep the nickname. He appointed a special commission last February to explore the question.
UND's sports teams have been known as the "Fighting Sioux" since the 1930s. The issue has flared often since the 1970s, and was a focus of impassioned argument on the university's Grand Forks campus for much of the last decade.
In the spring of 1993, UND's faculty senate endorsed a resolution supporting a nickname change. In January of last year, UND's student senate backed a change, in a resolution that was vetoed by the student body president.
Kupchella, in an interview, said he was not informed beforehand that the board would take up the nickname question.
He described the vote as "kind of a surprise" and said his reaction was "a mixture of bothered by it a little bit, and being relieved a little bit, and wondering, 'What do we do now?' a little bit. It happened so quickly."
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