To the Editor
Grand Forks Herald
Ever since arriving at the University of North Dakota some 28 years ago, I have heard much talk about the excellence of UND as an educational institution. Much of this talk was na´ve and ill-informed, based on little more than wishful thinking, but it did provide me and other faculty members with a goal to strive for-the goal of turning UND from a decent state university into a good regional institution, one capable of drawing on a significant number of out of state students while serving the most eager of North Dakotas learners. Although this goal has not been fully achieved, it remains not only desirable but in fact urgent as we see the number of students graduating from North Dakota high schools decline. President Kupchella, who since arriving on campus has devoted a good deal of his energies to long-range planning, has indicated on a number of occasions the importance of greater out of state visibility for UND.
Now, at least one part of President Kupchellas goal has been accomplished. In the coming weeks and month, UND will no doubt receive national attention. UND has, in fact, been featured in national publications several times in the past twenty years, and in each case that attention was negative and was attached to the name Ralph Engelstad. UND is again well positioned to become a laughing stock far and wide, along with the entire state of North Dakota. Before the Engelstad letter became public, the resistance to changing the name of the sports teams had already pointed up the parochialism of the University and the state. Instead of acting with honor and courage and integrity, many in the state and on campus seemed more interested in acting like juveniles for whom a college education is pretty much equivalent to an unending fraternity kegger. Instead of exhibiting a mature understanding of the underlying racism and ethnocentricity of the Fighting Sioux name and logo, some preferred to make hypocritical and unconvincing noises about honoring native peoples while at the same time belittling Indian students and threatening to undercut Indian programs. Instead of seeing the nickname issue as a human rights issue, many preferred to utter mindless phrases about political correctness and bleeding heart liberals and ungrateful Indians. Instead of standing up for what is so clearly right, many, including, to its shame, the State Board of Higher Education, prefer to give in to the threats of a bully with a fat checkbook. A checkbook, I should add, that provides little or nothing to promoting the value of the educational experience at UND, but provides instead a massive steel and concrete monument to the ego of the donor.
In spite of all that has happened in recent months, I still believe that the University of North Dakota can be an institution to be proud of, can reach beyond the borders of North Dakota while serving the states daughters and sons, and can live up to its own aspirations as a beacon of learning on the vast prairie. To do this, however, we need to call Engelstads bluff--the worse that can happen is that Grand Forks will end up with an impressive ruin, a monument that simultaneously symbolizes the egotism and arrogance of one man and celebrates the courage and wisdom of the people of North Dakota. Who knows, it might even become a tourist attraction.
Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor