Former Sen. Byron Dorgan said Thursday that North Dakota higher education officials shouldnâ€™t be criticized for their steps toward retiring UNDâ€™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 â€” work that was recently suspended with the Legislatureâ€™s approval of a law ordering UND to keep the name â€” was a matter of President Robert Kelley and other officials doing what they were asked to do.
â€œI donâ€™t think thereâ€™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,â€ he said. â€œAnd I donâ€™t think that they can be criticized for that, even though I support the name.â€
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 didnâ€™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.
Students asked Dorgan about a variety of national and state issues, including U.S. military actions in Libya, getting a grip on the countryâ€™s debt and the effort to finalize plans for a $1.7 billion Red River diversion to protect Fargo-Moorhead from spring flooding.
When asked if he thought it was a good idea for the Legislature to get involved in the Fighting Sioux nickname, Dorgan said he hasnâ€™t been following state lawmakersâ€™ work on the issue this session.
But he said the recently passed legislation comes with a big â€œdilemmaâ€ â€” not retiring the nickname could have consequences for UND teams in post-season games based on the terms of a 2007 lawsuit settlement.
â€œIf I felt that the use of the name is disrespectful, I would never support it,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve gone beyond that at this point with the NCAA and thereâ€™s not much we can do to affect the NCAAâ€™s decisions.â€
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 heâ€™s confident their efforts will lead to another successful flood fight.
But Dorgan the diversion plan is a much different situation than the push for permanent flood protection in Grand Forks following its devastating 1997 flood.
â€œWhen 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, â€˜This canâ€™t ever happen again,â€™â€ he said. â€œThis city galvanized very quickly.â€
Thatâ€™s not the case with the Fargo diversion plan, Dorgan said, because the high cost and concerns about the projectâ€™s downstream impact have sometimes made it hard for local leaders to find common ground.
â€œIt is a big, big, big project, but it needs to be done,â€ he said.
U.S. military intervention in Libya was another topic that came up during Dorganâ€™s visit to campus.
He said he thinks President Barack Obama â€œmade a mistakeâ€ with his handling of the military effort because he didnâ€™t discuss his plans with lawmakers.
â€œHe should have at the very least before making the judgment he made had the leadership of the House and the Senate down and did consultation,â€ he said.
Dorgan said the military action in Libya isnâ€™t a declared war â€” which would require the approval of Congress â€” 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.
â€œThatâ€™s different than what happened with Iraq and also Afghanistan, and now Libya,â€ he said. â€œIt 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 itâ€™s in the national interest.â€