Under state law, the University of North Dakota is compelled to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo for its athletics team. But now the North Dakota Board of Higher Education is set to sue against a public vote on the subject, wanting to drop the nickname entirely.
The board approved the lawsuit after meeting by telephone with state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who said he was confident the law violates the North Dakota Constitution, writes the Associated Press.
Board members described their decision as a defense of their constitutional prerogatives, but critics of the move say that it the board is trying to silence voters.
Sean Johnson, a spokesman for the referendum campaign, said:
"In the wake of very serious problems within the North Dakota university system, our state Board of Higher Education has instead decided their priority should be trying to use the legal system to disenfranchise the voters of North Dakota."
While the university has attempted to drop the logo and nickname – with the North Dakota Legislature successfully repealing the state law – nickname supporters filed referendum petitions.
And now, if North Dakota's secretary of state, Al Jaeger, decides that the petitions to revive the nickname law are valid, the question could be put on the state's primary election ballot. It would then be up to voters whether or not the University keeps the nickname.
However, the constitution gives the board broad powers to manage the state's 11 public colleges, says Stenehjem.
Stenehjem is set to file paperwork that asks the North Dakota Supreme Court to block the issue from going to a statewide vote.
UND wants to drop the nickname fearing penalties from the NCAA, reports WDAY.
The association has already imposed sanctions which say that the school cannot host post-season tournaments, and its teams won't be able to wear uniforms with the nickname or logo in post-season play.