Accreditation panel cites Chief riff

Copyright 2000 The News-Gazette

URBANA -- The University of Illinois has won accreditation for another 10 years, but not without some words of warning on the Chief Illiniwek issue.

The North Central Association released its report Friday, granting the UI accreditation through the end of 2009.

The agency plans a "focused visit" in three years to review UI efforts to heal divisions caused by the Chief controversy. The campus will also have to submit a progress report by Jan. 1, 2001.

UI spokesman Bill Murphy said focus visits are fairly common in the accreditation reviews.

But he and other UI officials expressed dismay at the report's "over-emphasis" on the Chief. The issue consumed eight pages of the 35-page main report and was mentioned several other times throughout.

"What goes to the heart of the university are teaching, research and service. They seem to miss the big picture," Murphy said.

The report said the UI easily met the criteria for accreditation, praising its "world-class" faculty and library collections, "outstanding" research, strong facilities and student body.

Chancellor Michael Aiken said he was happy with the overall report, but added, "I am dismayed by the disproportionate attention that the evaluation team paid to the Chief Illiniwek issue."

Aiken said trustees are addressing the accreditation team's concerns by launching an extensive dialogue on the Chief issue.

The North Central Association team agreed with the UI's assertion that the choice of a school mascot is not an accreditation issue per se. But it felt that the "educational consequences" of the policy fell within the accreditation's purview.

The team was clearly troubled by the more than 100 letters, petitions and other communications it received protesting the use of the Chief.

The mail included one letter from an unnamed former president of a Big Ten university, who said that "Chief Illiniwek and similar racial caricatures are symbols of discrimination and ridicule. They are anathema to good sportsmanship and to building cultural understanding and mutual respect."

Other letters said the Chief undermines education by distorting American history and hurting the UI's efforts to recruit American Indian students.

The review team wrote that it was not trying to resolve the issue, and that the existence of a controversy itself was not necessarily an accreditation issue.

But it found that the comments raised substantive questions about the UI's ability to meet accreditation criteria, particularly on "institutional integrity." It requires a school to adhere its own ethical values as outlined in institutional policies and procedures.

The UI's handling of the issue seems inconsistent with its own statements on promoting diversity and eliminating discrimination, the report said.

The review team said it found no evidence that the UI had plans to deal with the negative impact of the Chief on "educational effectiveness."

"The controversy over The Chief has divided the University community," the report said. "It interferes with the educational climate and with the institution's stated goal of creating an inclusive community.... It has the potential to worsen over time to the detriment of a great university."

The UI has a responsibility to create an environment to allow some resolution of the issue, the report said. The controversy "will not go away."

"The team wishes to emphasize, however, that it is not advocating a particular outcome, nor does it believe that 'resolution' means that all interested parties are satisfied with the outcome," the report said.

Last week, UI trustees announced plans for an exchange of opinions about the Chief.

UI officials insisted that pro-Chief sentiment on the board has not changed, but that they were trying to comply with the review team's suggestions.

A senior legal professional will be hired to gather opinion for the board. On April 14, trustees will hold a special meeting where all interested parties can present their views.

Students, faculty, staff, alumni and the general public are invited to submit their opinions in writing to: Dialogue on Chief Illiniwek, P.O. Box 5052, Champaign, IL 61825.

Opinions may also be sent by e-mail to The deadline for submissions is May 31.