Website says UND officials used school's aircraft to lobby against Sioux nickname
An online report on University of North Dakota officials' use of aircraft to travel to Bismarck and testify on Fighting Sioux nickname legislation has lit up the pro-nickname blogosphere, with some citing it as evidence that UND President Robert Kelley should lose his job.
"UND has been using its planes to ferry administration and students on flights to and from Bismarck in order to present testimony on the Fighting Sioux name," the report by Kate Bommarito states.
The report appeared Tuesday on PlainsDaily.com, which identifies itself as "an Internet news source covering political and policy news that affects the Upper Midwest," and later on WatchDog.org, "a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity."
In response, UND spokesman Peter Johnson said that university officials flying to Bismarck, especially during legislative sessions, "has been a standard practice for probably 30 years," and flights in January and March were to allow Kelley and others to testify on appropriations bills and other university matters as well as the nickname.
"Often the president will drive to Bismarck if he's going alone or with one other person," Johnson said. "But when it gets to a certain volume, this way may be more efficient. And it's the way many state officials travel."
The planes in question are owned by the UND Aerospace Foundation, not the university itself, and many such trips - including two last week when the state Senate took up the nickname bill - doubled as flight training exercises, Johnson said.
The two planes last week carried Kelley, athletic director Brian Faison and other UND personnel, as well as Grant Shaft, a member of the State Board of Higher Education, and Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University, who drove from Fargo to catch the flight to Bismarck.
Kelley was the only UND official who flew to Bismarck in late January to testify on the nickname legislation before the House Education Committee. At that time, he said he spoke from a neutral position and responded to legislators' questions about news reports that he had asked a Summit League official to chime in on the nickname debate as a way to expedite its retirement, which he denied.
A UND vice president also made that flight but was engaged in other university business, Johnson said. Another UND administrator, already in Bismarck for an energy industry activity, joined the president four days later for the return trip to Grand Forks.
"The president flew to Bismarck in January for a number of reasons, one of which was to attend the House hearing on the nickname, and he stayed in Bismarck for several days," Johnson said.
Faison, Shaft and three students on the flights last week - Evan Andrist, a registered student lobbyist; Grant Hauschild, then student vice president, and Ty Rose, a member of the university's track and cross-country teams - all testified against the nickname bill before the Senate Education Committee. That followed recent decisions by the state board, UND's University Senate and the UND Student Senate to oppose the bill.
"The state board had taken a position on the bill, and that position was opposition," Johnson said. "The only people who flew and spoke at that hearing supported the position of the State Board of Higher Education."
Asked whether a student or university staff member who favored keeping the nickname had applied for a seat on the plane, Johnson said no. If one had asked, he said, it was possible but would have depended on space availability.
The Senate committee voted against the bill, but the full Senate approved it on Friday and sent it to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who said he will sign it when it reaches his desk.
The bill orders UND to retain its Fighting Sioux nickname and contemplates legal action if the NCAA - which for several years has sought to eliminate race-based nicknames, logos and mascots at member schools - tried to penalize UND.