By Dale Wetzel -- Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The president of North Dakota's Board of Higher Education said he plans to have discussions with tribal leaders about their opposition to the University of North Dakota's ''Fighting Sioux'' sports nickname.
John Q. Paulsen said the talks would precede any formal discussions by the full board, which has eight voting members, about whether to begin the process of shedding the nickname.
Paulsen said he has directed William Goetz, chancellor of the state university system, to speak to Sioux tribal leaders about their opinions on the nickname. He and Goetz expect to meet tribal leaders personally, Paulsen said.
''We have not had an opportunity, either one of us, to talk directly with the tribal leaders. I think that's the first thing that needs to happen,'' Paulsen said. ''That should happen before we have any report to the board, or any discussion by the board.''
Paulsen and Goetz said no meetings had been scheduled, and they said there was no timetable for holding them. Goetz said Dec. 4 he believed initial meetings would be held with the chairmen of the affected tribes.
The NCAA considers the nickname abusive and hostile. UND sued the NCAA to challenge a process the association used to impose penalties against UND for its continued use of the name and an American Indian head logo.
The Board of Higher Education agreed Oct. 26 to settle the lawsuit. The settlement terms say the logo and Fighting Sioux nickname must be retired within three years unless North Dakota's Sioux tribes give their permission to continue using them.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribal council has approved a resolution reaffirming its opposition to the nickname. At a UND forum in November, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Ron His Horse Is Thunder and David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College, were among a group of tribal members who urged the board to take immediate steps to dump the nickname.
Paulsen was not able to attend the forum, and he said he and Goetz wanted to hear tribal leaders' opinions first before initiating a board discussion of the nickname issue.
The board held a joint meeting Dec. 4 at the state Capitol with an interim legislative committee on higher education. It was expected to meet Dec. 5 in Dickinson to hire a new president for Dickinson State University. Board members were scheduled to interview two finalists.
Rep. Ken Svedjan, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the interim Higher Education Committee, said the handling of the nickname issue should be left to the board.
''It's in their hands now,'' Svedjan said. ''If I were a board member, I'd say, 'Let's deal with it, let's get it off the table, let's get it over with.' ... I think the name is history. As soon as I read the settlement, I believed it was over.''
Paulsen said he did not expect the board to discuss the nickname issue soon.
''We're engaged, the chancellor and I, in trying to pursue [discussions with tribal leaders],'' Paulsen said. ''Until we do that, I don't think that there's anything to be gained by trying to discuss the matter as a full board.''