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ST. GEORGE — Dixie State University registered multiple domain names for possible new university names a year ago, including the names that surfaced recently as a committee's top recommendations in an ongoing process to change the university's name.
While critics of changing the school's name contend the domain purchases show their opinions were never truly considered, university representatives maintain the URLs were purchased simply to prevent anyone else from doing so in case a new name was selected.
According to whois.com, which identifies who owns domain names, Dixie State University registered utahpolytechnicuniversity.com, utahpolytech.com and utahtechuniversity.org with GoDaddy.com on June 23, 2020.
This was a week before the university's announcement on July 1, 2020, that it was gathering information regarding the institution's name, noting that university leaders were "mindful of the current, widespread national and local dialogue regarding racial symbols, terms, monuments, policies, names and more. In addition, we are cognizant of and sensitive to the multiple meanings associated with the name 'Dixie.'"
The press release went on to say, "Despite current media coverage, there is no formal process in place to change the Dixie State University name at this time."
DSU spokesperson Jyl Hall said in an email that it is "industry best-practice to secure any URL associated with a brand name to prevent any content not generated by our university from popping up when someone searches for us. We have purchased URLs ending in .com, .org, etc., so that once a final name is accepted by all approving bodies, we will own and can redirect pages with the new name to our official .edu site."
Hall said the university owns "hundreds of domain names. It is important that we are prepared for any direction the name recommendation process may go."
The university pays an average of $10-$15 per URL, "a small price to pay to protect our valuable brand," she said.
The domain names were registered three months before the university's board of trustees Chairman David Clark, during the university's annual State of the University event last September, assured the community that "there is no secret plan on behalf of the trustees to change the name of Dixie State."
Moreover, there was "no secret plan" by the Utah Board of Higher Education or state lawmakers because under state statute only the Utah Legislature has statutory authority to change public university or college names, he said.
Tim Anderson, a St. George attorney who served 12 years on the Dixie College Foundation Board and has been an outspoken opponent of the name change, said he learned later in the fall of 2020 that the university's work to research multiple domain names had begun during the summer.
"So in fact there was a significant plan to change the name and, in my view, that really challenged the credibility of the whole movement by the university leadership," Anderson said.
"That bothers us all here, it's a major concern that we all have," Anderson said.
Hall said it is best practice to secure domain names before announcing "even a potential name change ... so others can't."
Large organizations are often targeted when they announce they are exploring name changes. "Popular domain names can go for tens of thousands of dollars. We were being proactive to ensure this didn't happen to us," Hall said.
Quinton Read, a nursing student and cross-country athlete who will start his junior year this fall, said the sequence of events raises questions, but his greater concern is that students perceive their voices have not been heard, nor have they been sufficiently involved in the process to select a name.
Read is among organizers of an on-campus protest planned for Wednesday night over the committee's recommendation of the Utah Polytechnic State University name.
"They want a name that represents all of the students and all of our respective majors and we really just don't want to take a step back. We want a name that's going to make us unique and something that people can kind of get behind," he said.
(It is) industry best-practice to secure any URL associated with a brand name to prevent any content not generated by our university from popping up when someone searches for us.
–Jyl Hall, DSU spokesperson
Read said when he heard the recommendation "I was just thinking, like man, I don't really want to run and compete with such a weird name on my jersey. I know a lot of the other athletes feel the same way."
Students, alumni and community members have pushed back against the committee's recommendation, with more than 16,000 people signing a change.org petition.
The petition says in part, "As students we feel unheard, disrespected and that the institution wants to make the decision without any input from us. As a community, we ask for something that will represent Southern Utah and that we can be proud of.
Dixie State University deserves something better than UPSU!!"
Hall said university officials "feel very confident the process has been thorough, transparent and inclusive." Moreover, the process is ongoing and has yielded 20,000 responses, she said.
"We heard from 14,449 community members, including 3,352 students — over a third of our student body — in the community survey. We heard in-depth from 400 community stakeholders in two rounds of focus groups, including community leaders and student leaders who were representing the voices of their demographics," she said
There was a significant plan to change the name and, in my view, that really challenged the credibility of the whole movement by the university leadership.
–Tim Anderson, opponent of name change
Memes have surfaced using the United Parcel Service logo in mock-ups of the Utah Polytechnic State University abbreviation, UPSU.
"We are aware that the acronym UPSU is problematic and never intended to use the acronym. Similar to other schools across the country with polytechnic missions, a shortened name — such as Utah Tech, Utah Poly or Utah Polytech — would be used instead of an acronym," Hall said.
In December 2020 both the university trustees and later the Board of Higher Education voted unanimously in support of changing Dixie State University's name. Clark and other trustees said they had a change of heart after learning from a Cicero Group impact study commissioned by the university how the institution's name was affecting graduates because some people unfamiliar with the area perceive the name has racist connotations.
Anderson said those findings were an affront to the area, its residents and history.
Only the Utah Legislature has statutory authority to change the names of public colleges and universities. Lawmakers took up the issue during their 2020 general session. After a stalemate between the House and the Utah Senate, lawmakers ultimately agreed on a substitute version of HB278, which called for a public process to address community concerns that their voices had not been heard.
Thus began an extensive process that has included surveys and the convening of nearly 50 focus groups. Julie Beck, the committee chairwoman, told the Deseret News editorial board that she had personally spoken to 500 people as part of the name recommendation process.
Last week, the name recommendation committee appointed by the university's trustees voted to recommend the Utah Polytechnic State University name to the trustees. The committee also recommended that the university be known as Utah Tech for short. Three committee members walked out of the meeting prior to the vote.
Randy Wilkinson, one of the three committee members who left the meeting, read a letter that acknowledged the hard work that had gone into the committee's process but "with all of that good effort it has been intentionally wrapped in a predisposed strategy to demean, disparage and defeat that Dixie name and minimize adherence to the history, heritage and traditions of the residents of southwestern Utah, or better said, the people of Utah's Dixie."
The DSU trustees will consider the Utah Polytechnic State University recommendation at their next meeting.