ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University may soon have a new name.
The Dixie State University Name Recommendation Committee voted 11-3 in favor of renaming the university Utah Polytechnic State University with another vote for an alternative name to also be considered after months of community input resulting in a "mountain of data" and over two hours of spirited debate in a meeting Monday.
Members of the committee also struck down a motion that would have recommended that the main St. George campus be officially known as the "Dixie" campus before the meeting adjourned.
The committee, which was formed in March after the Utah Legislature approved a bill to review a possible new school name, was tasked with taking in all sorts of feedback and recommending a name to the university. It means Monday's decision isn't the end of the process.
The name "Utah Polytechnic State University" will now move forward to the Dixie State University Board of Trustees for a vote sometime in the near future. If the board agrees, it will be sent to the Utah Board of Higher Education and Utah Legislature for final approval. If there aren't any snags, the rename is expected to become official in November; if either the trustees or the Legislature disagrees, the committee will work to come up with another name.
After the meeting concluded, Julie Beck, a member of the school's board of trustees and chair of the committee, said she was "quite confident" the name selected by the committee would appease university trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education based on what they heard in focus groups.
"The name that we have put forward fulfills all the requirements of the legislation, which is what we were focused on," she said. "As a committee, we kept coming back over and over again to our primary task, which was to come up with a name that gave us a location identifier in the state that would help us compete on a national scale, that would speak to our academic mission and we think we have accomplished that."
What's in the name?
There were two names that emerged from a series of focus group discussions after the committee, last week, narrowed down Utah and the university's academic mission as "themes" in the school's name: Utah Polytechnic University and Utah Technological University.
Those both aligned closely with what the university has become. School officials argue that Dixie State is quickly moving into an institute of technology or polytechnic university. Polytechnic means that the university offers technical or vocational studies but offers more than just technology.
Of the over 4,500 colleges and universities across the U.S., they only identified 32 other schools with the same focus as what Dixie State was leaning toward. These include California State Polytechnic University, Texas Tech University and the Air Force Institute of Technology.
Aaron Evans, with Love Communications, the agency that helped conduct the studies, said these focus groups were composed of "key stakeholders," such as current and possible future students, university leaders and faculty, university donors, local mayors, business leaders and state legislators.
Utah Polytechnic University and Utah Technological University stood out, while other possible options — Utah University of Technology & Arts, Utah University of Technology & Humanities, Utah University of Technology and Utah Institute of Technology — flopped. Evans said focus group members believed the least-liked options sounded either too much like the University of Utah or the name of a for-profit trade school.
Once the two popular school names were found, Evans also showed the committee possible logo design mockups with the new names replacing the old ones.
While there were two names brought to the committee, one garnered most of the discussion. The term "polytechnic" rose to the top from the focus groups and was the clear choice within the committee Monday. That's because the overwhelming consensus was that it sounded more inclusive to the degrees outside of technology as compared to Utah Technological University.
It's also why Love Communications recommended Utah Polytechnic State University with a handful of possible nicknames to shorten it.
"I have served on the Dixie State Board of Trustees for nine years and I've watched this university grow and develop into something that is very different from the school I attended when I came here," Beck said, after Monday's committee meeting concluded. "It's the right time for the university to advance in this way and be named for what it really is, and give it its true potential through this. ... It will help our faculty, our researchers, our grant seekers, all of who have to work in a university community."
(T)he fact that we have an acronym that's actually a decent word, that we can get the name of Utah and our mission after a 100 years, this is actually a miracle.
–Jordon Sharp, vice president of marketing and communication for Dixie State
Jordon Sharp, vice president of marketing and communication for Dixie State, said going from Dixie State to Utah Polytechnic would be "a big change" that's likely "a bridge" for some and "a bridge too far" for others; however, he said it's not one that hasn't happened in history. He pointed out that Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee, was originally known as Dixie College and the University of Dixie up until 1915 before it was renamed the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute and then to its current name.
When it comes to rebranding, he said a name should "check the most boxes" since it's likely everyone will have their own preference. He was thrilled that a name emerged from the input process.
"If you look at everything here, there's a lot to work with," he said, during the meeting. "You might go 'Gosh, I don't love this; I don't love that,' but after 100 years and 4,000 colleges and universities, the fact that we have an acronym that's actually a decent word, that we can get the name of Utah and our mission after a 100 years, this is actually a miracle."
That's not to say it was a hit with everyone on the committee. Those initially opposed to the name viewed the shorthand as confusing and possibly problematic, especially given the state's past history with polygamy.
Some argued in the meeting that it didn't make sense for the school to distance itself with one term viewed as a problem only to go to another term that could also be viewed as a problem. Connor Shakespeare, president of Dixie State Alumni Association and a committee member, said he could only imagine the jokes and internet memes associated with "Utah Poly University."
"I think it just brings up a whole (can) of worms," he said.
Sharp countered that there was support "across the board" among demographics with the term "polytechnic." Shawn Newell, who is a Utah Board of Higher Education member and served as committee's vice chair, added that the term "technological" posed possible issues since some could confuse it with the other higher education tech schools in the state.
Even though it wasn't completely the focus of the committee's responsibilities, a good majority of the debate Monday ended up going toward a possible shorthand nickname for the new university name, or what it could be more commonly referred to. This was the result of the concerns over the shortened name for Utah Polytechnic State University.
Penny Mills, the Dixie State student body president and a member of the committee, said she couldn't imagine a scenario where the name wouldn't be shortened eventually, especially when it came to student cheers at sporting events. Options brought to the committee included "Utah Tech," "UTech," "Utah Poly," "UPoly" and "Utah Polytech."
The committee eventually decided in favor of adding a preferred nickname after the lengthy discussion over it.
A shorter name?
Those a little more cautious with "polytechnic" leaned toward the idea of Utah Technological University instead. The compromise was adding a recommended nickname for Utah Polytechnic State University.
Utah Tech became the top choice from the committee. Evans explained that this was a possible option that came from Utah Polytechnic State University, especially since there is a prominent example elsewhere in the country: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is more commonly known as just Virginia Tech.
The motion passed with a 12-2 vote but it's unclear how much weight the alternative name recommendation will be given. The motion was considered nonbinding during the meeting. After the meeting concluded, Beck said "U Tech" and "Utah Polytech" were still in consideration, pending further research.
Deven Osborne, a member of the university's football team, the president of the Dixie State Student Athletic Association and a member of the committee, said he grew up in California very much aware of polytechnic schools. He just couldn't imagine seeing "Utah Polytechnic" on his jersey. It's why he favored Utah Tech because it was "pretty simple and to the point."
Committee members agreed that the school nickname is likely the one that will show up the most in sports, especially on the ESPN sports ticker.
"It's kind of who we are. ... (In) my four years here, we've always been trying to compare ourselves to other schools and stuff like that. I kind of want to be our own school, who we are, not SUU or the other trash schools in the state," Osborne said.
An 'emotional issue'
Monday's vote came a week after the committee voted 13-3 to drop "Dixie" from consideration of the university's name. The term has been associated with the school in one way or another since 1913.
The last motion of Monday's meeting centered around the school's history, too. The committee failed to pass a measure that would recommend that the central St. George campus would be called the "Dixie" campus.
The process was an emotional rollercoaster since March and Monday provided another twist to the ride. It started with Randy Wilkinson, a community member named to the committee, reading off a letter opposing the committee's decision to move away from the term "Dixie." He applauded all the efforts to get everyone's feedback on the name but argued the views of the community were not adequately considered to the point that he called into question the whole process.
"We cannot help but conclude that, with all of that good effort, it has been intentionally wrapped in a predisposed strategy to demean, disparage and defeat the Dixie name and minimize the adherence to the history, heritage and traditions of the residents of southwestern Utah or, better said, the people of Utah's Dixie," he said, reading off the letter. "Much of the information presented has been, at best, quite anecdotal. Other more objective parts, including surveys and supposed community assessments by consultants and pollsters that you have hired, have very much been very much called into question."
The letter was signed by Wilkinson, as well as two other committee members: SkyWest founder Ralph Atkin and Dixie Technical College board chair Darcy Stewart, who effectively resigned the committee and did not participate in the rename vote.
Shakespeare interjected, saying he entered the process in March "very pro-Dixie" but his opinion changed over the course of the several meetings. He said "now is time" to change the name of the school based on the administrative efforts of the university. The remaining members of the committee agreed.
Before the meeting adjourned, the remaining members of the committee used the platform to thank each other for their work throughout a difficult stretch. Beck called the renaming process "an emotional issue" for residents and anyone with ties to the university alike.
"There's been a lot of discussion around that passion on both sides of this," she said, noting that one group felt it was an attack on the community's heritage and the other felt the current name was too limiting for the university.
"I think that this name recommendation will alleviate a lot of the pressure that's been on the community," she added. "People will now be free to get behind and support something that is unifying, inclusive and a freeing name. It can bring people of all origins and all thought to this university — building upon the heritage of the past."