I graduated from the College of William in Mary in the early 70s, and back then it was different from other colleges. It wasn’t just that W&M was smaller, and had higher academic standards. It had also resisted a lot of the modern educational fads, and just wasn’t “with it” like other schools. It was full of geeks and nerds and studious types. In fact, that’s what we hippies used to complain about.
The years went by and the school continued to resist the zeitgeist. Every hole-in-the wall teachers’ college or secretarial school started calling itself a “university”, but W&M stuck to its traditions and remained “The College”. Oh, it had to add “diversity seminars” for its freshman and mandatory “date rape awareness training” for all those bad, bad, boys. But still — William and Mary was resisting the post-modern wave of politically correctness.
But not any longer . My alma mater has surrendered to the “Placate the Noble Savage” fad. I refer, of course, to the PC inquisition against colleges and schools that dare to use Indian-related names, logos, and mascots for their sports teams.
William and Mary’s athletic teams are “The Tribe”, and the W&M sports logo features a pair of feathers with the College’s initials. The NCAA has been fighting the school over those feathers for quite awhile. It could barely gulp the word “Tribe” down its PC craw without gagging, but the feathers were too much. They had to go.
The administration resisted for a long time, but it has finally caved. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the arrival of the new college president, Gene Nichol. But last month President Nichol raised the white flag and notified the students and alumni of the decision:
October 10, 2006
Dear Fellow Members of the William & Mary Community:
I write concerning the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s dispute with the College over our nickname and logo.
During the past several months, the NCAA has reviewed William & Mary’s athletic insignia to determine whether they constitute a violation of Association standards. On the more important front, the Committee concluded that the College’s use of the term “Tribe” reflects our community’s sense of shared commitment and common purpose. Accordingly, it will remain our nickname. The presence of two feathers on the logo, though, was ruled potentially “hostile and abusive.” We appealed that determination. The decision was sustained and has become final. We must now decide whether to institute legal action against the NCAA or begin the process of altering our logo.
I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for the College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. The Association has applied its mascot standards in ways so patently inconsistent and arbitrary as to demean the entire undertaking. Beyond this, William & Mary is widely acknowledged to be a principal exemplar of the NCAA’s purported, if unrealized, ideals.
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Not only are our athletic programs intensely competitive, but according to the Association’s own Academic Progress Reports, the College ranks fifth among all institutions of higher learning in scholastic excellence. Each year, we graduate approximately 95% of our senior student athletes. During the past decade, two William and Mary athletes have been named Rhodes Scholars and 42 elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the national honorary society founded at the College in 1776. Meanwhile, across the country, in the face of massive academic underperformance, embarrassing misbehaviors on and off the field, and grotesque commercialization of intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA has proven hapless, or worse. It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.
Still, in consultation with our Board of Visitors, I have determined that I am unwilling to sue the NCAA to further press our claims. There are three reasons for my decision. I’ll explain them in order.
First, failing to adhere to the NCAA logo ruling would raise the substantial possibility that William & Mary athletes would be foreclosed from competing at the level their attainments and preparations merit. Two years ago, for example, we hosted a thrilling semifinal national championship football game against James Madison University. At present, we are barred from welcoming such a competition to Williamsburg — in football or any other sport. I believe it is our obligation to open doors of opportunity and challenge for our students, not to close them. I will not make our athletes pay for our broader disagreements with a governing association. We have also consulted with our coaches and student athletic advisory council on the matter. They are of the same mind.
Second, given the well-known challenges that this and other universities face — in assuring access to world-class education, in supporting the research and teaching efforts of our faculties, and in financing and constructing twenty-first-century laboratories and facilities — I am loath to divert further energies and resources to an expensive and perhaps multi-faceted lawsuit over an athletic logo. Governing requires the setting of priorities. And our fiercest challenges reside at the core of our mission. I know, of course, that more than one member of our understandably disgruntled community would likely be willing to help finance litigation against the NCAA. Those dollars are better spent in scholarship programs.
Third, the College of William & Mary is one of the most remarkable universities in the world. It was a national treasure even before there was a nation to treasure it. I am unwilling to allow it to become the symbol and lodestar for a prolonged struggle over Native American imagery that will likely be miscast and misunderstood — to the detriment of the institution. Our challenge is greatness. Our defining purpose is rooted in the highest ideals of human progress, achievement, service, and dignity. Those are the hallmarks of the College of William & Mary. They will remain so.
I know this decision will disappoint some among us. I am confident, however, that it is the correct course for the College. We are required to hold fast to our values whether the NCAA does so or not. In the weeks ahead, we will begin an inclusive process to consider options for an altered university logo. I invite you to participate. And I am immensely grateful for your efforts and energies on behalf of the College.
Go Tribe. Hark upon the gale.
Gene R. Nichol
In this case, as in so many others, the Indians themselves don’t object to the use of Indian-related symbols. There are two local Indian tribes just northwest of Williamsburg, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi (pronounced Matta-Poe-NYE, in case you’re interested).
Va. Indians OK with W&M name
“When we take care of some of the poverty and crime and drug problems and that sort of thing in this country, then we’ll worry about names,” said William P. “Bill” Miles, chief of the Pamunkey Indians, whose reservation is in King William County.
“It’s a tribe. We root for those,” said Gertrude Minnie-Ha-Ha Custalow, historian for the Mattaponi Tribe, which lives on a reservation in King William. “I’ve never heard of any other tribes who think it’s improper.
“You know, sometimes this type of thing can get a little bit ridiculous.”
I’ve been to visit the museum on the Pamunkey reservation, and it’s a very interesting and informative place. History, archeology, cultural artifacts, and old photos — plenty of tribal material for the visitor to look at. But when you see the photo of the Pamunkey chief dressed up for a ceremony in a full-length feather headdress, you know it’s a put-on for the tourists. Anyone who has seen the 17th-century engravings of the Tidewater Indians made by the early settlers at Jamestown knows that the Virginia tribes didn’t look anything like the buckskin-and-feathers Indians. Those were much farther west, maybe on the Great Plains, but not on the Pamunkey river.
If anybody but the Indians themselves were to place such a getup on an Indian, it would be considered racial stereotyping and maybe even a hate crime. But Indians like to do that sort of thing.
In any case, I don’t have much hope, with or without feathers, for the future of William and Mary under the current PC onslaught. It doesn’t seem to matter what students, alumni, Virginia citizens, or local Indians think. The PC gods must be appeased. The feathers must go.
With that in mind I have joined the “inclusive process to consider options for an altered university logo”. I present this design to the College free of charge. It is a logo befitting W&M’s new status as a craven appeaser of the forces of political correctness. A new mascot is in order, too — let’s call him “Plucky”.