No more important issue it seems exists for the University of Illinois than one about political correctness. Read about how a much revered symbol of the past has been maligned and demeaned to destroy an image never intended and only perceived in the minds of those that can see it no other way.
If you want to enter the saga...
Send letters via e-mail to
Over 14,000 letters have been sent to email@example.com
by May 31, 2000 when the deadline expired. A $250 per hour attorney has the job of reading them! And summarizing for the board what they say!
It is safe to say that the attorney will delegate a lot of reading and tabulating in an effort to just quantify the magnitude of attitudes pro and con. Does the issue lend itself to a statistical type decision process? Would 13,999 short notes calling for PC to demand a simple get rid of the Chief be balanced only by an equal number of short notes saying that the only thing to eliminate should be the other 13,999 or keep the Chief!
Or can one well written presentation get to the core of the argument and help both sides come to understand why one answer is best? The following letter was written with such an intent. The author, Richard R. Tryon is not a graduate of the U. of I., but he has been a long time supporter of some of its programs, especially that of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. He wrote the following to the Board before he knew that 14,000 others had already done so on the last day of the entry period ending on May 31, 2000. Here is the text:
Ladies and gentlemen of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois:
At last, the C-U News-Gazette has brought forth the article that clearly explains the reason for the enormous debate over the future of the U. of I. use of its colorful and proud symbol portrayed by Chief Illiniwek.
Carol Spindel has presented via her commentary column in the May 18, 2000 issue in very eloquent terms why she and many others are confused by their interpretation of their perception of the nature of the Chief. They are absolutely correct from the perspective of their unfortunately flawed logic of political correctness. Their myopia, unfortunately, keeps them from even a sense of humility- what if they are wrong?
The PC problem stems from the idea that the human sense of ‘self-worth’, a necessary ingredient to individual performance, is denied to some because of what such persons as Ms. Spindel identify as group identifiers. These allow some to conclude that these factors require us to conclude that permitting any such to exist generates ‘negatives’ in ways thought to overpower such persons as individuals. These people can not perceive of anyone as an individual minority of one! Everyone has to be cataloged into one or more minority groups; and those that fail to be so grouped are thought to be ‘not at risk’, while those in such minority groups are all at risk!
Once put into a minority group, then the logic of the age of civil liberties requires that government must intervene to avoid the perception by anyone in or out of this group that someone is going to fail to perform to their potential, just because they belong to one of the proclaimed minority groups. There is no need to perceive human relationships in this manner save in a collectivist society where homogenization is the goal of the state rulers.
Ms. Spindel answers every question posed to her in a way that reflects her enormous study of the history of American Indian culture, but she also shows that she can’t escape her own personal bias that forces as a conclusion that somehow society must be made to be so bland that no PC imperfection can be tolerated. This generates a new kind of bigotry or prejudice. One worse, perhaps, than some other more gentle types of activity.
For example, I learned just two years ago that some women have what they call a ‘bad hair day’! No doubt the PC crowd would have had me punished for even asking the young lady why she was wearing a cute beret? It was an innocent question.
I will pray to God, if it is permissible, for the return of ‘common sense’ into the social scene in hopes that as individuals we will become less sensitive to the irrelevant observations of those who make ‘mountains out of mole hills’. If everyone is taught to understand that they are each the product of a unique set of genetic codes, not part of some group that is artificially defined by the interventionists, then we can move forward and enjoy the symbolism of the image portrayed by the U. of I. ‘fighting Illini’s Chief, or even the Purdue ‘boilermaker’. The image of the Chief is intended to be perceived in a positive way. It is not the intent of the U. of I. to foster the image itself as a cartoon clown, intended to denigrate; but rather to show a sense of spirit and determination that can carry from the athletic contest to the halls of learning and then on to the future in a world that depends upon individual spirit, energy, and initiative, not collective security free from all real or imagined PC risk!
It is time for the Board of Trustees to affirm this truth and strike a blow against the interventionists who are the real victims of their own misperceptions. The PC crowd needs to find its own self-worth in terms of developing real useful spirit rather than struggling to find phantoms that mean nothing to the spirit of all successful individuals. We are not created or destined to be all alike. Lets stop trying to fake it and let the Chief continue to show all that pride and spirit to achieve are far more important than to worry about those that insist upon misreading, because they can’t consider people as individuals- only as members of groups- either advantaged majorities or deprived minorities. They can’t deal with groups that fail to achieve, if they are not part of a defined minority; nor can they accept that most of any of their defined minority groups do quite well. Their hearts only bleed for those they think are oppressed.
It is time for the Board to put its stamp of approval on the honest and correct intentions behind the symbolism of the Chief; and to denigrate,instead, those that are unable to sort out the meaningful distinctions. To surrender to their false and incomplete thinking is to denigrate a great university as well as the type of leadership and spirit portrayed so well by the Chief.
Richard R. Tryon
P.S. The above states my case. Now here is the explanation and critique of Ms Spindel’s answers:
1.Question #1 “Don’t many Illinois fans genuinely respect and admire Chief Illiniwek?”
Her answer: “Yes, they do. But to argue that affection for a fictional Indian character you’ve created is the same as respect for real Indian people is faulty logic”.
It is not the intent of the U. of I. or of those who created a symbol of leadership for athletic events and other portrayals of the university quest for excellence, to attempt to educate viewers about the life style or stature of any past, present, or future characterization of any group or individuals that can be labeled as a minority; other than in a way meant to engender respect for the perceptions of that group’s history. The Chief is presented as an ancient evidence of spirit, poise, determination and zeal to emulate not to denigrate!
2. Question: How can the Chief be offensive? The answer clearly shows that Ms. Spindel sees only entertainment and commercial profit where the majority sees honor, loyalty, spirit and courage. Just because she knows so much of the unfortunate history of so many different so-called Native American groups, she is unable to see how modern Americans can see value and positive attributes among certain individual members of this culture from the past. Many of this ancient culture have survived and done well in the current polyglot society. Those that have been maintained and forced to reproduce on the reservation have tended to fail or refuse to try to be assimilated into the dominant culture that swept many different variants of Indian culture into obscurity.
3. Can Indian references in sports logos or mascots be tasteful to Indians? Clearly the answer can be yes in the case of the Illini Chief. Just because Indian organizations are opposed to cartoon mascots and defamation does not mean that their direction includes a call to deny tasteful representations like those done religiously by all Illini Chiefs.
4. That the “Peoria” tribe leaders went on record in April of 2000 as repudiating the 1993 words of a chief is an indication of how political we have let the argument become. The world is rapidly filling itself with similar ‘group think’ representations created by polls and activists with help from the media.
5. The 1934 lifting of a prohibition over Indian tribal war dances, etc. represents a decision possible only after the age of Indian warfare became history. The careful study of these dances and the enactment of them has been done with great care to maintain the special spiritual values of them. Students who perform are all highly trained and respectful. None has tried to make any jest or cartoon image. Only those who can only see NCAA sports as a commercial business can get serious with their concerns. That argument, however, is closer to being a valid one than any other.
6. Schools that have given up cartoon images and caricatures of crazed Indians are not to be put in the same class as the University of Illinois which never had such a motive- just the opposite!
7. It is somewhat comforting to know that Ms. Spindel does not want to change the name of the state of Illinois. Apparently it is an honor as long as it is an abstraction. I wonder if she will let us keep “In God We Trust” on our coins and bills?
8. The low ‘self-esteem’ argument is the cornerstone of the argument. There are many successful people who happen to have an Indian heritage as part of their family history. Why do these people not have low self-esteem? Obviously those that play the game of life by the rules that other successful people have to adhere to, do well. To jump to the conclusion that some individuals fail only because of the fact that others find ways to group them into a minority definition that leads to group identities, is not fair to anyone.
The fact that many special interest groups have been driven to accept codes of conduct and calls of conscience that make all references to minority groupings of their definition offensive does not make them right. History is full of similar failures of groups to make the right choice. Sometimes members tend to follow the path of least resistance- ie, don’t fight the loudest presented arguments.
The last question is the most important one. Should we just agree to disagree? No, says Ms. Spindel emphatically. For the Board, faculty and staff to bow to the pressure of the PC crowd is the only answer acceptable to her. The long tradition of success of this university was not built on PC of this order. To bow down and become an innocuous entity is a prescription for failure of far greater measure.
Update of July 9, 2000:
c: Champaign News-Gazette
Att: John Forman
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