Dorgan: Don’t criticize UND officials for Sioux transitionGRAND FORKS — Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan said Thursday that North Dakota higher education officials shouldn’t be criticized for their steps toward retiring University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
By: Ryan Johnson , The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan said Thursday that North Dakota higher education officials shouldn’t be criticized for their steps toward retiring University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
The UND alumnus said he supports the name and spent his time on campus cheering for the Fighting Sioux. But he said the work to transition away from the nickname — work that was recently suspended with the state Legislature’s approval of a law ordering UND to keep the name — was a matter of President Robert Kelley and other officials doing what they were asked to do.
“I don’t think there’s much question that the State Board of Higher Education, and then the president of the university, had described what they had to be doing,” he said. “And I don’t think that they can be criticized for that, even though I support the name.”
Dorgan made the comments Thursday morning while speaking to a state and local government class on the UND campus.
Later in the day, he visited the Chester Fritz Library to view the future home of documents from his 30-year career in Congress. The Democrat, who didn’t seek re-election last year, signed an agreement in December to transfer more than 1,700 boxes of his congressional papers to the university.
When asked if he thought it was a good idea for the Legislature to get involved in the Fighting Sioux nickname, Dorgan said he hasn’t been following state lawmakers’ work on the issue this session.
But he said the recently passed legislation comes with a big “dilemma” — not retiring the nickname could have consequences for UND teams in post-season games based on the terms of a 2007 lawsuit settlement.
“If I felt that the use of the name is disrespectful, I would never support it,” he said. “We’ve gone beyond that at this point with the NCAA and there’s not much we can do to affect the NCAA’s decisions.”
Dorgan also was asked to discuss the ongoing work to finalize details for a $1.7 billion Red River diversion project that would protect the Fargo-Moorhead area during spring flooding.
He said residents and local officials are now gearing up for the possibility of major flooding at Fargo this spring, and he’s confident their efforts will lead to another successful flood fight.
But Dorgan said the diversion plan is a much different situation than the push for permanent flood protection in Grand Forks following its devastating 1997 flood.
“When you see the evacuation of an entire city and then see the downtown area, while in a flood, burning out of control, all of a sudden people say, ‘This can’t ever happen again,’” he said. “This city galvanized very quickly.”
That’s not the case with the Fargo diversion plan, Dorgan said, because the high cost and concerns about the project’s downstream impact have sometimes made it hard for local leaders to find common ground.
“It is a big, big, big project, but it needs to be done,” he said.
U.S. military intervention in Libya also came up during Dorgan’s visit to campus.
He said he thinks President Barack Obama “made a mistake” with his handling of the military effort because he didn’t discuss his plans with lawmakers.
“He should have, at the very least before making the judgment he made, had the leadership of the House and the Senate sit down and did consultation,” he said.
Dorgan said the military action in Libya isn’t a declared war — which would require the approval of Congress — but instead was a result of an order Obama is allowed to give under the War Powers Resolution.
He said there are some circumstances that would be appropriate for the president to begin a war without a congressional declaration, including times when the U.S. faces an immediate threat of military action.
“That’s different than what happened with Iraq and also Afghanistan, and now Libya,” he said. “It seems to me there needs to be a much straighter line and a much greater connection between the authority to declare war and the determination to declare it when it’s in the national interest.”
Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.