By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Is Chief Illiniwek a moot point?
Well, despite more than 12,000 students turning out this week to vote on a referendum about the former University of Illinois symbol, the school seems to be trying to turn their opinions about the Chief into one.
Thanks to something called “Moot Court”.
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, the University of Illinois held its 2013 Campus Student Elections. The ballot included a question asking students if they support Chief Illiniwek as the school’s official symbol.
That referendum about the Chief was a counter initiative organized by Illinois students Josh Good and Matt Paarlberg in response to an online campaign by the student group Campus Spirit Revival (CSR), which in January asked students to vote for a new school mascot intended to succeed Illiniwek.
Under NCAA duress, Chief Illiniwek was retired as the school’s official symbol by university administration in March 2007.
The purpose of Good’s and Paarlberg ’s referendum, billed as “Chief or Nothing,” was not to push for the return of Illiniwek, but rather to demand that he not be replaced by a mascot that very few students or alumni want.
On Feb. 5, I delved into the hot-button issue of the students’ “Chief or Nothing” rallying cry. But on Friday, that saga took a strange twist when it was revealed by the Daily Illini that unofficial results for all referendums on the 2013 student ballot had been released – except for the one involving the Chief.
It had been “sequestered.”
The DI reported that, “The results of a question asking whether students support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University are being withheld, pending a Moot Court Board Judiciary case. The case centers on the constitutionality of a resolution passed by the Illinois Student Senate that enabled a symbol selection survey in mid-January. If the resolution is deemed unconstitutional, the results of the election and survey won’t be released.”
For those of you without a law degree (or, jeez, even for those of you with one), let me decipher that confusing paragraph of legalese. First off, Moot Court is an extracurricular activity at many law schools through which students can participate in simulated court proceedings. At Illinois, however, Moot Court is also the “most official way” to challenge resolutions passed by the Illinois Student Senate, according to Good.
And since the student senate passed a resolution in January supporting Campus Spirit Revival’s contest to vote on a new mascot, Good challenged the constitutionality of that decision via Moot Court in February. That was prior to his organization of the Illiniwek referendum that appeared on the student ballot this week.
The Moot Court is scheduled to begin debate on Wednesday about whether the student senate’s Campus Spirit Revival resolution was constitutional or not. If it’s found that it wasn’t, then the results of CSR’s online mascot contest will not be released.
This convoluted student judicial issue seemingly could have been resolved prior to this week’s elections. But, for reasons unclear, it was not. And now, the Moot Court proceedings are being used by the university as an excuse to withhold the results of the Chief Illiniwek referendum.
Until a date that’s TBD.
And whatever way you cut it, that’s inexcusable.
This week, according to the Daily Illini, the number of voters participating in the election nearly quadrupled last year’s turnout, with 12,062 students voting compared to just 3,269 in 2012. Good said on Friday that number is reportedly the biggest turnout since 10,300 students voted in 2008. Not coincidentally, ’08 also was the last time that a referendum regarding Chief Illiniwek was on the election ballot.
Clearly, the Chief – and the issue of replacing him – continues to be a topic that’s of enormous interest and concern among the Illinois student body, as well as many alumni. As a result, CBSChicago.com filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the university on Friday afternoon to hopefully ensure the release of the students’ Illiniwek voting results.
The Chief issue is a complex one, but current students – as well as alums and taxpayers who fund Illinois’ flagship university – deserve to know the results of a public poll conducted of its student body about Illiniwek at the same time that all other election results are released.
Not days, weeks or months later because of something trivial like “Moot Court.” Arguing otherwise is the true moot point in this whole thing.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.